This article is part of the Positive U series, a component of U=U & U, Pride Media’s year-long initiative to get the word out about HIV prevention, treatment, and testing, especially the groundbreaking news that people living with HIV who have undetectable viral loads can no longer transmit HIV.
Born in the Third Ward area of Houston, Texas, nonbinary sociopolitical activist Mike Webb (who uses they/them pronouns) endured a fair share of adversity and in their youth. After witnessing physical and emotional violence at home, Webb was also the victim of intense bullying and a brutal physical assault outside of it — after revealing a crush on a boy in seventh grade.
Now 32, Webb serves as president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and Community Relations for Harris County. With their extensive background in law and political science (having spent time working in Washington, D.C.), Webb is as passionate about changing local and federal government policy around HIV as they are about working with the people in their own community, the greater Houston area.
“At the end of the day, all of these policies and strategies around HIV empowerment and prevention are dependent on ensuring we have culturally competent representative governments locally, on a statewide level, and nationally equally committed to fighting HIV with us,” Webb says. “Therefore, we absolutely have to get out and vote in every election possible, ranging from electing city council members to voting for the next president of the United States.”
While Webb says they’ve always been an HIV activist, the issue became central to their life after getting diagnosed almost a decade ago.
“I was always that annoying friend who forced all their friends to get tested for HIV regularly,” says Webb, but the “need to aggressively fight back against HIV in our communities became real for me when I was diagnosed 9 years ago. Luckily, I was surrounded by an amazing chosen family who gave me the support needed as I learned the best ways I personally can help contribute to a world where there are zero new HIV transmissions, especially within Black queer communities.”
On identifying as gender-queer and nonbinary, Webb recently told Houston-based OutSmart magazine that hearing young trans activist Landon Richie testify against the Texas bathroom bill two years ago inspired them to come to terms with their own gender identity.
“He was so powerful and inspirational,” said Webb, who was also the first gender nonbinary grand marshal at Houston Pride this year. “Being nonbinary was a part of myself I never accepted, but I thought if Landon can fight for his targeted community, I need to accept myself. I already have so many layers that I have to fight for — why add one more?”
After much contemplation, Webb ultimately came to the conclusion that “I need to be an advocate for myself,” and decided to open up to the world about their true gender identity.
Webb is also passionate about getting the word out about U=U (undetectable = untransmittable). U=U means that once a person living with HIV reaches an undetectable viral load on antiretroviral meds, and stays on meds, it becomes impossible for them to transmit HIV to a sexual partner.
“I love how empowering it is to experience those of us living with HIV publicly to affirm each other through various U=U campaigns,” says Webb. “It is important for those of us living with HIV to learn more on how we individually can contribute to a world where we eventually have zero new HIV transmissions.”
Webb also stresses the importance of living your best life possible, no matter what your status — and seeking help when you need it.
“The first step for me was to remove all the shame I initially had about living with HIV,” says Webb. “When I was diagnosed, I figured I could either stay in bed and be depressed about it, which I was for a while, or I can get up and fight back. Fighting back can be in the form of taking advantage of mental health services, which has assisted me with continuously removing any implicit layers of shame we often feel as we navigate the pervasive stigma around HIV that still exists throughout many of our communities.”
“Another way of fighting back can be as simple as taking our HIV medicine as prescribed,” they add. “Living with HIV has simply made me acutely aware of the importance of making sure our activism and social movements are intersectional. Removing shame and stigma, having the courage to fight back, and entwining my lived experiences into my already existing passions and aspirations all contributed to learning to thrive as someone who lives with HIV.”
So what would Webb say to someone who just learned they are positive?
“It’s actually the same advice I give to queer youth throughout Houston and Harris County all the time, which is to never ever give up…. There will definitely be barriers and a unique set of challenges you will have to overcome, but with the proper support and resources, all your dreams are still possible. We just have to fight a little harder.”
Find out more about U=U, and what that means for you, at our U=U&U channel.