|Q Ellis-Lee (Mr. Eagle NYC 2016)
|Mr. Eagle NYC 2016
|New York, NY
What is your personal story with your journey with HIV either as an ally to those living with HIV or being HIV-positive that you would like to share?
It’s funny- that’s something I don’t often share. And I think the reason for that is I’ve always preferred to quietly be in and of the fight, to not make it about me in any way. Definitely not at a public level either. But also it’s not entirely my story to tell, so I keep it close. So close it’s become a part of me. Admittedly my roots in this are deeply personal and life-changing in a way most 20-year olds don’t get to see.
I’ve also traditionally been hesitant to disclose my HIV status because again, what did it matter what that was? It mattered that I showed up. That’s what I love(d) about the HIV Smart campaign—it’s for us all. That you have the desire to be a part of something right, something that helps your fellow man is what’s important. Reasons or motives are yours alone and dare I say, irrelevant.
You do a lot of work getting information out to the public about PrEP and with us directly at HIV Smart. Why are you so passionate about this and what got you started?
Lol- I just realized I answered part of that in the last question, at least the ‘why’. But how I got started was by the best way to grow any campaign, movement or happening: word of mouth. A friend put me in touch with Ryan who then told me what HIV Smart was about. It wasn’t even a second thought for me. I grew up when HIV/AIDS was a “gay disease”—and to be clear, it never was. If you were sexually active with unsafe practices or an IV drug user, you were at risk. Period. So more than dispelling the stigmatizing myth gay men bore the brunt of, it needs to be made aware that the disease doesn’t discriminate. Never has, never will.
Are you a member of any other organizations or community groups that you’d like to tell us about?
Proudly Team Eagle–love those guys. A group of men and women who get together every September to participate in The Center’s Cycle For The Cause, a 3-day bike ride from Boston to NY. Throughout the year we have several events to raise money toward that end.
As a titleholder in the Leather Community why do you feel that HIV Smart has been embraced so enthusiastically?
Because HIV Smart is squarely in line with the Leather Community’s greatest feature: there’s a place—and room—for everyone.
What do you think is the biggest problem today in terms of HIV?
Misinformation. Who gets it? What happens next? Treatment? Services? Support? The answers to these questions at this point in time should be common knowledge. (Answers: Anyone. Take immediate action toward self-care. See your doctor. Community-based organizations like GMHC. God’s Love We Deliver, The Center, GMHC.)
What are some words of wisdom you can offer to someone newly diagnosed?
They’ve changed—things have changed—since the beginning. It’s almost trite to say now but it’s not a death sentence anymore. So at least there’s some comfort there. However like any major health condition it can still come with a range of feelings and emotions. I think your response will obviously be rooted in your own personal experience around sero-conversion. But in the end all you can really offer is, ‘you can get through this – I’m here for you’. Don’t just say it or even mean it either—do it.
What do you think the biggest myth or misconception is about PrEP?
It’s a free pass. And that myth is on both sides of the argument. Both for and against. Those against seem to think that PrEP users–and I’m trying not to use any language that participates in slut-shaming, the most popular tool for the anti- argument–are looking for excuses to be reckless, for lack of a better term. Those for seem to forget it’s an additional safety precaution. Additional. It doesn’t eliminate risk, only mitigates it.
What challenges or discrimination do you think exist or you have seen for those living publicly with HIV?
Ignorance—in all it’s many forms. In the workplace, among family, socially, social-sexually (dating & hookup sites). All these in turn can lead to a host of personal issues ranging from mental health, financial stability or even job security.
Everyone tends to think about all the negative things about living with HIV. Tell us, do you think there are any positive experiences?
I think one of the best things that can come from the diagnosis is a new self-awareness you receive. Suddenly your body and your life are more precious than before. Admittedly the able-bodied take for granted the ability to use limbs, to see or speak and yes, an uncompromised immune system. For people living with HIV, addressing and taking care of it are more often than not healthier than a man who isn’t.
What do you hope people will get out of the HIV Smart campaign?
A comfortable and easy approach to getting more information. An ability to identify through the variety of faces in the campaign—the more people photographed, the greater the chance for a person to see themselves reflected…or even someone they know.
Hope. Always hope.
What’s some of the more amusing experiences that you may have had either disclosing or working in the HIV prevention field?
I think me in bunny ears and a fucking Hello Kitty shirt at the DC Eagle event was laugh riot enough. And at my age? Stitches.
What would you like to tell everyone reading this that we haven’t asked you?
Yes. You can never have enough hats, gloves and shoes.
Where else can people find out more about you?
Facebook.com/mreaglenycq. Facebook is like my online diary.
I’m kinda not kidding. #sad