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The AIDS survivor

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The AIDS survivor

Adrian Reynolds, 35, is a longtime AIDS survivor. He coordinates the AIDS Drugs Assistance Program for the DeKalb County Board of Health in Decatur, Georgia. He is also a volunteer peer counselor and a board member of the AIDS Survivors Project, a support and advocacy group for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Eight years ago I was waiting to drop dead. Everybody I knew who was HIV positive had died. I had no hope, no support system. The climate was different back then. If you knew you were HIV positive, you couldn't say anything.

Now, it's been legitimized to a certain degree. I think that has something to do with the fact that the Clinton administration didn't push it aside. Clinton brought in [longtime Atlanta AIDS activist] Sandy Thurman to be his eyes and ears about AIDS [as director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy]. I was impressed. Someone of that level talking to the president about HIV.

I've been HIV positive since 1988 -- at least that's when I found out. I was living in New York. Fear and whatever else prevented me from going to a doctor. I was just going through the motions of life.

I didn't start dealing with it until I moved to Atlanta in 1995. I hadn't really been in contact with my brothers and sisters [in Atlanta] for about 12 years. We talked on the phone, but we're children of a messy divorce, so we weren't close. I had a sister who had breast cancer and she passed away. I came down for the funeral, and my brother just broke down crying and asked me to move down.

The AIDS diagnosis came after I moved, a month after I came down. When I got here I had a really bad cold. It turned out to be pneumonia. At first it was going all right with my family but then, when I went into the hospital, there were some comments made behind my back that got to me. I didn't tell them I was HIV positive when I moved down because I knew it would be an issue. Now we're estranged. They have my phone number. I've made my peace with it.

I was looking for a support group [in 1997] and saw one of the fliers for the program [at the AIDS Survival Project]. I'm not really one for the group thing -- the whole touchy-feely experience. At least, I wasn't. But after the first meeting I went home and I was really pumped up, and I decided I wanted to give back as a volunteer. I became a peer counselor and now I'm a board member as well.

I'm better off now than I was eight years ago. I know what my options are. I have choices. I didn't have choices in the beginning. I've gotten stronger because I've gotten more vocal about things. I'm HIV positive and that's part of who I am. Just like I'm black. I can't change it. There's no way to get away from it, but it's not the end of the world.

It seems to me that people in general are happier now. The economy's better. We're not headed for any wars that we know of. I think Clinton did a good job. We had a deficit for years and he found some money somewhere. That's a good thing.

But people are so busy enjoying life, trying to hang on to this happiness, that it leads to some apathy. AIDS apathy is a big problem now. My issue now is how to get the momentum back with HIV programs.

I was not a person to stand up for anything like this before. I don't feel like a political person. I guess I have a bad sense of what a political person is, and I don't want to be put into that category. But if standing up for something you believe in is political, then I guess that's what I am.

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