In the past few decades, so much has changed for people living with HIV. Treatment options are dramatically better and more accessible. Public awareness and knowledge about the condition has increased. Government-funded HIV research and health programs exist now. Through support groups on the internet and in person, people living with HIV can stay connected, creating a thriving community.

All of these changes were brought about through the tireless work of leaders and activists in the HIV community. But despite the many successes, the work isn’t over. We still have a long way to go. Stigma and myths about HIV continue to persist, along with discrimination and hurtful attitudes. There are still people living with HIV who can’t access the treatments and care they need.

That’s why we need heroes. We need activists and leaders who work hard to bring about change and who make a differences for all of us.

Here is my list of 5 incredible HIV+ leaders and activists who inspire me with their commitment to making a difference. I hope they inspire you, too.

Josh Robbins: The Inspirer

His work

Josh runs the HIV news and advocacy site “Im Still Josh” at imstilljosh.com.

Age

35

Living with HIV

Josh has been living with HIV for six years.

Why he’s involved

“I wanted people to still see me as someone who was still the same Josh. I wanted them to still be themselves. I felt really alone, so I decided to use my diagnosis as an opportunity to increase the discussion locally,” Josh says. “The only way to do that was to be really honest about it all loudly. I am glad I did!”

His advice

Josh believes in the power of nourishing food. He explains, “It sounds simple, but when someone gets the worst news of their life, I always ask them: Have you eaten? The stress is draining on their body and their body’s immune system is already overworking — so eating a healthy meal can really help. I won’t really talk to someone newly diagnosed UNTIL they have gone to eat a healthy meal. You wouldn’t believe the change after doing something so simple.”

Jahlove Serrano: The Artist

His work

Jahlove is an artist and sexual health educator. Learn more about his work at HIV Stops with Me.

Age

31

Living with HIV

Jahlove has been living with HIV for 17 years.

Why he’s involved

“My journey living with HIV inspired me to become public with my HIV status. I knew that by me telling my story I could inspire someone to get tested and in treatment if diagnosed with HIV,” Jahlove says.

His advice

The first piece of advice Jahlove offers is this: “It’s okay not to be okay.” His second piece of advice is to get educated and stay aware. He says, “When I became an educated consumer, that’s when I became a powerful provider.”

Kamaria Laffrey: The Nurturer

Her work

Kamaria is an HIV expert who speaks about the condition around the world. She is a Florida community organizer with The SERO Project, a network of people fighting the stigma of HIV. Check out her advocacy work on Instagram at @empowered_legacies or visit her website Kamaria.org.

Age

35

Living with HIV

Kamaria has been living with HIV for 15 years.

Why she’s involved

Two weeks after Kamaria gave birth to her daughter, she learned about her HIV-positive status. She was afraid and didn’t know where to get care, support, or treatment. Then a case manager named Kathy Brown from Florida’s Healthy Families program came to check on Kamaria and her baby. That visit changed everything.

“She sat with me for an hour while I poured out my fears and cried,” Kamaria says. “She then asked me to write a letter detailing the gaps of service relating to the treatment of HIV.” The letter was shared with the outreach department at a specialty care clinic, and Kamaria was connected with services.

Kamaria says that Kathy became like family. “I am forever indebted to her taking time to show me that life can happen without stigma.”

Today, Kamaria is involved in work that could bring life-changing services to women in her area. She explains, “Where I live, there are not any specific programs for women of color or single moms living with HIV, but I am building relationships and gaining skills to hopefully change that.”

Her advice

Kamaria wants people to know that how they feel is valid and that no one should tell them how to feel. “I went through waves of anger, depression, guilt, suicidal thoughts,” she says. “If I hadn’t had the support of my family to allow me to cry, dance, write, sleep when I needed to — I don’t know how I would have gotten through the initial part of it.”

She adds that documenting each day or week how you feel in a journal or on video can be helpful. “It gives you something to look back on and realize if you overcame yesterday, today won’t be as bad. No day is permanent. Each breath is removing you from your past and carrying you into your future.”

Robert Breining: The Visionary

His work

Robert is the host of POZ I AM Radio. You can check out his work on Twitter, Facebook, or on Instagram at @poziamradio.

Age

38

Living with HIV

Robert has been living with HIV for 17 years.

Why he’s involved

“What first motivated me to become an advocate was how uneducated my friends, family, and coworkers were about the disease. After going online to find and talk to others living with HIV/AIDS, I discovered Hope’s Voice.” That’s the organization that started the Does HIV Look Like Me? campaign, Robert explains. “I was inspired to share my story and sent in a video. I am proud to say that my video was included in the campaign.”

In 2005, Robert started his online activism with the creation of the POZ I AM online community. Then, in 2007, he launched POZ I AM Radio.

His advice

For advice, Robert shares his signature quote, “Your dreams are not infected.”

Margot Kirkland: The Protector

Her work

Margot is the program director at Voices for a Second Chance, a non-profit organization that supports inmates and returning citizens to be active, productive members of their communities.

Age

64

Living with HIV

Margot has been living with HIV for 27 years.

Why she’s involved

“I was attending an HIV meeting on Capitol Hill one day. Women were not part of the agenda. People of color were spoken about as collateral damage. HIV infected individuals as a whole were talked about as deserving of this disease because of our ‘assumed’ behaviors. I remember becoming very angry that these assumptions were being made about me,” Margot explains.

Margot had a baby who died from complications related to transmission of HIV. At the meeting on Capitol Hill, she says that no one was talking about the babies who died. The people at the meeting implied that deaths from HIV were due to people’s behavior. She remembers, “At that moment I stood up and spoke out. At that moment I became an advocate for human rights and the rights of individuals living with HIV.”

Her advice

“You have a virus, nothing more, nothing less . . . Know that you are loved and have a huge family of global support who cares.”


Guy Anthony is a well-respected HIV/AIDS activist, community leader, and author. Diagnosed with HIV as a teen, Guy has dedicated his adult life to the pursuit of neutralizing local and global HIV/AIDS-related stigmatization. He released “Pos(+)itively Beautiful: A Book of Affirmations, Advocacy & Advice” on World AIDS Day in 2012. This collection of inspiring narratives, raw imagery, and affirming anecdotes has earned Guy much acclaim, including being named one of the top 100 HIV prevention leaders under 30 by POZ Magazine, one of the top 100 Black LGBTQ/SGL Emerging Leaders to Watch by National Black Justice Coalition, and one of DBQ Magazine’s LOUD 100, which happens to be the only LGBTQ list of 100 influential people of color. More recently, Guy was named one of the Top 35 Millennial Influencers by Next Big Thing Inc. and as one of six Black Companies You Should know” by Ebony Magazine.