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.
Tyler Hurt is the first to admit he hasn’t always proudly stood strong in his convictions. Born in Las Vegas, Hurt had moved to Orlando, Fla., as a young adult. After a number of tumultuous years, Hurt's life took a positive, if unlikely, detour.
“I wanted to just love my body,” Hurt recalls. Now an activist, at the time Hurt was approached by a photographer who was working on a nude photo series. Hurt offered the lensman a trade-off.
“I said, ‘I’ll do your series if you can give me images I can send to adult producers,’” he remembers saying. The photo series that followed ended up changing his life, but not because it ended up in the hands of a movie producer.
"That series showed me things I’ve never seen before," Hurt recalls. "It showed me vulnerability and strength in my own skin — all at the same time.”
Upon receiving the photos, the young man was so inspired that he decided to post them on social media instead. He displayed his own truth for the world to see with captions including, “I’m HIV-positive and I’m beautiful” and “I have a mental illness and I am beautiful.”
He says the images inspired him to be known in the gay community as simply, “The naked guy.” The social encouragement Hurt received acted as a balm for the years of fear, pain, and isolation he felt while on a search for his purpose.
After high school graduation, Hurt admits he sunk into a deep depression for several years. An ongoing battle with drug and alcohol addiction led him to purposefully become HIV-positive. In Florida, which is second in the nation among new HIV cases, that's not a surprise. And Orange County, where Orlando is located, ranks third in the state after Miami-Dade and Broward counties. A full 25 percent of those new cases each year are among people ages 13-24.
Hurt discovered his positive diagnosis when he was 21 years old.
“It’s not that I wanted to become HIV-positive,” he understands now. “It was because… I felt isolated in the community. I felt isolated by my own family. I felt isolated from everything.”
While Hurt doesn’t regret blindly looking for HIV as a young adult, he’s now using that experience to deter others from walking down the same path.
As marketing coordinator at Impulse Orlando, an organization focusing on educating gay and bi men about HIV prevention and safer-sex practices, Hurt now uses his story of perseverance to encourage other folks to find clarity in their pain. At Impulse, men are urged to know their status, get tested, and if positive get on treatment.
Those living with HIV can become undetectable on treatment and thus unable to transmit HIV to others. It's the U=U effort is becoming a universal goal for healthcare providers and people living with HIV both.
Of course, for Hurt, he's also trying to prevent more young men from acquiring HIV through safer-sex practices. And he's also working with groups still marginalized among sexual health educators.
In August, he organized Kamp!, an HIV advocacy weekend event that aimed to de-stigmatize the kink community in the sexual health sphere.
“I aim to bring more light for those who feel isolated so that they don’t walk down the same path,” he proclaims. “If they are adults walking down that path, let’s give you some knowledge and education before you make that choice. I wasn’t afforded that. I wasn’t given an education on what it means [to live with HIV].”
Hurt says he waited three months before getting treatment after finding out he was HIV-positive. Following a multitude of therapy sessions, the activist ultimately found a health professional he connected to on a “level that works." He's since been able to work through a lot of his past trauma, including a childhood of abuse and neglect.
Through his work and activism, this newly-empowered "naked guy" with HIV is making a change for the rest of his community.
Find out more about U=U, and what that means for you, at our U=U&U channel.