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When I got infected, I put my trust in someone who took off a condom while we were having sex. I had knowledge that he took off the condom, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t speak up.

I wasn’t educated at all about HIV. The first thought that came to mind was death, just tell me when I’m gonna die.

Especially being 19 about to turn 20 years old. It was rough. Thinking about nobody wants you. It was just like this whole new life I had to start living, how I am gonna live it, who do I want to tell my status to, who can I trust? I did not want to start treatment. I didn’t want to have to depend on pills for the rest of my life, but my grandmother she talked me into it, and she told me, ‘if you have to be put on meds, just go ahead and do it.’ And I’m glad I did, because I probably wouldn’t be sitting here, like seriously, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here. It’s my lifeline, and I choose to live, so I do take my treatment.

What made me start fighting back was me noticing the silence. No one was talking about it. HIV has been around 30 plus years and no one is saying anything, and that was just my deciding moment right there. I just, let me speak up.

That’s definitely my passion is to go out and share my experience and just educate, letting people know I’m still human, and just being a voice for others that can’t speak up or are too afraid to speak up.

Sympathy needs to be taken out of HIV. We need to start getting mad about it. And start getting to the point where we want to do something.

My first advice to young people is to love yourself. Protect yourself. Look out for yourself because nobody else is going to. And that leads into not putting your trust all into one person, and that’s what happened to me.

Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. You are your own advocate and your own activist, whatever it is you’re going through.

Don’t ever get discouraged and if you do yell and I will seek. Breaking the silence in unity, the world will listen when we speak.

At 19 years old, Stephanie was scared to tell people she was living with HIV after she found out. Through conversations with her grandmother, she sought the treatment she needed and started speaking out about HIV.

Be Informed, Talk Openly

Knowing the facts and talking openly about HIV helps end stigma. Having the support of loved ones improves the health and well-being of people living with HIV.

Click here for answers to common questions about HIV.