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.
In 2005, Dorian-Gray Alexander experienced a series of illnesses and was eventually diagnosed with Stage 3 HIV, otherwise known as AIDS. He was self-employed but luckily had health insurance.
“I was going to be OK, right?” he recalls.Then Alexander received a letter from his health insurer rescinding coverage the next year. He sought legal and health advice at the NO/AIDS Task Force, the oldest HIV organization in New Orleans (which later became CrescentCare).
“I learned I could receive my care there and get not just my clinical care, but also wrap-around services,” he says. Alexander’s medication has a sticker price of $2,300 per month, but he pays no out of pocket cost. “That one bottle saves my life.”
The activist dove into more research and quickly became involved in HIV issues, where he learned about 340B discounts on medications through the federal Ryan White program. These 340B savings have allowed CrescentCare to nearly double its client population. In fact, over 80 percent of its clients living with HIV have achieved viral suppression, rendering them undetectable, which means they can not longer transmit the virus to others.
“The goal of HIV care is to have the virus become undetectable,” explains Alexander. “I plan to live a long life.” And, he likely will: the lifespan of those living with HIV on treatment today is nearly equal to someone without HIV.
Alexander has since expanded his reach to radio, producing the Proof Positive Show on the community station FM 102.3 WHIV (We Honor Independent Voices). Launching on World AIDS Day 2014, the program is a talk show with local guests raising awareness about HIV and other health conditions through music, protest songs, and programming dedicated to human rights and social justice.
“Mine is a single, yet important voice for my brothers and sisters of all molds who are living with HIV,” he says proudly of the program. “Each show hopes to empower us with HIV, especially [those] hiding in shadows, and to inform everyone.”
Alexander credits the 340B program with helping CrescentCare deliver vital medical care when he needed it most, without which his talk show would never have become a reality. He’s now a member of the board of directors.
“I’m so darn proud of the work CrescentCare does,” Alexander says of the organization, which he says implements stellar care including a gender clinic and syringe access programs that are “truly inspirational and unique to our city and in the South.”
“The legacy of HIV and support services are remarkable given the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina and all the changes we’ve endured,” he adds. “Our new 65,000 square-foot [headquarters] provides primary and specialty care as well as a safety net to a community that struggles with access to better health. We know some people will die younger just because of the zip code they live in. CrescentCare wants to change that and bring more equity in health care. Every day has its rewards and disappointments.”
Alexander is also on the board of Bayou Brief, which produces nonprofit journalism.
“A free press and an informed public are vital,” he emphasizes. “Nothing seems more important, especially right now with current politics. We need investigative reporting and nonprofit journalism like we need community radio. These are not obliged to advertisers but to the public to reveal the facts wherever they lead. Bayou Brief is another way to keep a transparent eye and those accountable for what they promise and what they deliver, or don’t.”
A true spirit of New Orleans, Alexander is also a member of the 610 Stompers, New Orleans only all-male dance crew. The group has already made its third appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
While he says N’awlins has come a long way, it still has a far trek to go as far as getting factual information out around undetectable equals untransmittable (or U=U).
“New Orleans is way behind on the U=U,” he says. “Some of my frustration is [that] it’s been hard to get initial buy-in still and they want to muck it up and conflate it, for example, mixing it with STIs. Having syphilis does not diminish the effectiveness of being undetectable, nor the fact we cannot pass it on. We need to stop this madness.”
But as Alexander says, we can all do a little bit more.
“I wear many hats in the community and volunteer on and off boards, and in many ways, it can be confusing,” he says. “In time I hope to pull back and look to other projects, maybe help mentor others to be more engaged, to speak out and call out others. My approach is confrontational and can certainly be improved. But it’s never personal. It’s about those who cannot or don’t feel empowered to use their voice.”
Find out more about U=U, and what that means for you, at our U=U&U channel.