HIV is No Longer a Death Sentence: Malcolm Reid

“I believe when people see me and my husband, out in the community, living, thriving, doing the work; they will understand that HIV is no longer a death sentence.”
Sep 19, 2019 3:15 PM ET
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Malcolm Reid is based in Atlanta, Georgia and has been involved with HIV advocacy since 2014. He created THRIVE SS’s group for Black men living with HIV over the age of 50, Silver Lining Project, and works to help participants grapple with aging, PTSD, loss, and stigma while training them in political advocacy. Malcolm is an avid thrill-seeker and rollercoaster enthusiast having ridden over 50 of the world's fastest. 

When did you find out you were HIV positive? How has your HIV status impacted your life?
When I was diagnosed in 1997, I was not surprised. The impact on my life, at first, was negligible. I went on with my life as if nothing was different. I took my pills and kept it moving. I met my current husband a year before and we were both diagnosed around the same time, so I had someone to support me and I, being a natural caretaker, put a lot of energy into taking care of him. 

Years later, in 2014, I began to look at myself and my life. I realized how blessed I was. I also realized how selfish I had been. I knew that there were guys my age suffering in silence. Living a quiet existence, at home, alone. They were fearing disclosure, stigmatizing themselves. I realized that I was in a position to help. Even if it meant just being a sounding board to men my age or telling my story younger men. 

I shared my desires with some friends. While on a cruise with a large group of SGL people, I spoke out in a workshop. I told my story and expressed my desire to get involved. My friends were responsive, and one led me to a supportive group, which I joined in August of 2015. That group later became THRIVE SS. 

Where have you gotten support to manage your HIV treatment? 
Because I have a job with good benefits, I have managed my own medical support. Since joining THRIVE SS as a volunteer and now employee, my support comes from my advocacy. 

How long have you been involved in HIV advocacy? 
I have been involved in HIV advocacy since 2015. After becoming a member of the THRIVE SS organization, I was able to create a group called “Mature Men of Color” to support black gay men living with HIV over the age of 50. Today that group is the Silver Lining Project and we are now working to implement the dream I had back in 2014 – programs geared to assist Black gay men living with HIV over the age of 50 to deal with aging, PTSD, loss, and stigma while helping them train others and become engaged in political advocacy. 

Do you think there is an added stigma being a person from a racially marginalized community living with HIV, and if so, how do you handle it?
Yes, I do think there is added stigma being a person from a racially marginalized community living with HIV. While the African American community mostly votes liberal, African American people are very conservative in social and family circles. The church and family structure can be judgmental and unforgiving. I believe the best way to handle this is through communication and education. I try to take the fear and myth out of living with HIV. I am open and out about my status. I believe when people see me and my husband, out in the community, living, thriving, doing the work; they will understand that HIV is no longer a death sentence. It’s not just the rich famous athlete that can live an abundant life with HIV. 

I also advocate for Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) because once people understand that people who are living with HIV receive the care they need, and achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load, they are unable to transmit HIV through sex and are, therefore, less likely to stigmatize us. From a policy and legal perspective, this will help us end the laws across the country that criminalize HIV. 

Living in Georgia, we are affected by the refusal of our government leaders and representatives to expand Medicaid. This has led to hospitals and health centers closing in rural areas and has left thousands of people unable to afford their medications. Many people don’t have access and even if they did, they might not be able to afford care. U=U is only possible when there’s equal affordability to ensure access.

Do you feel that you face additional challenges in care as a member of a racially marginalized community living with HIV?
I have been blessed. I have a good job with great health insurance. Currently, I have no challenges accessing, affording and remaining in care. But I see the challenges my brothers face regularly with ADAP and other public health organizations and want to help them access the care they need.

How would you support someone who recently received a positive HIV diagnosis? 
First, I would talk to them about their concerns and fears to learn where they are mentally. Are they self-stigmatized? Are they blaming themselves for their diagnoses? Then I would use the THRIVE SS model to connect them to care. We want to not only link them to care but make sure we address the social determinants of health such as housing and an ongoing support network. 

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
A good job and salary aren’t everything. Look around at your blessings and share them – get involved, early and often. Also, understand that everyone who is not achieving what you have achieved still has a story and value, and it's up to us to lift them up. 

What gives you hope?
Young advocates that are bringing new energy and creativity to advocacy give me hope. I’m also hopeful because of strategies like PrEP, which can help prevent the spread of HIV, and medications that keep those of us living with HIV undetectable and untransmittable.