As an HIV-positive, Latino gay man, I moved to rural Clarkston, Washington for nursing school and immediately felt the need to hide myself. I took the rainbow flag off of my car, and I toned down my personality—a little less flamboyant, a little more careful.
But after a week, the rainbow flag was back up. At school, I began teaching fellow nursing students and faculty about LGBTQ issues and HIV and AIDS.
Looking back, I still remember when I learned I was HIV positive. The shock I felt was one no one can possibly prepare for.
In that moment, I could have been shamed or judged. Instead, the clinician disclosed that he, too, was positive. He and my doctor went on to teach me that HIV is just part of me—it’s not all of me.
I was terrified, and I needed knowledgeable and nonjudgmental guidance. That’s what I want to offer as a nurse practitioner.
It is also what I want to do in my life more broadly—to help change the stigma that is attached to HIV within the LGBTQ community and beyond.
The cost of my healthcare often makes it difficult to afford anything else. Receiving a Pride Foundation scholarship has allowed me to further my education and has given me the flexibility to continue volunteering with Blue Mountain Heart to Heart in Walla Walla, a Pride Foundation grantee, in efforts to expand their HIV case management to SE Washington, where no such services currently exist. It’s still in the beginning stages, and we don’t yet know what will come of these efforts, but at least these conversations are happening.
I know one thing to be certain—everyone deserves the care they need to survive and thrive, and a community where they can be fully who they are. Because in the end, I know I’ll never take that rainbow flag off of my car again.
Adan Longoria is a 2017 Pride Foundation Scholar and a nursing student in Clarkston, Washington.