Women Empowered Support Protect Educate Advocate and Know at Binghamton University (WE SPEAK BU) held their third annual “It Can’t Happen to Me” discussion panel Thursday in the University Union, where students heard the stories of three HIV-positive adults.
The purpose of the event was to clear up misconceptions about the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as well as to inform students about preventive measures.
“I just want people to see HIV can affect anyone,” said Karlisa Crooks, president of WE SPEAK BU.
Crooks, a senior majoring in anthropology, said the majority of the planning for the event involved getting HIV-positive adults to come and speak to students. Three HIV-positive activists answered the call and came to speak in front of the audience of approximately 30 students.
The event was divided largely into two segments. First, the three speakers Tony Ray, Corinthian Booker and Steven Holmes, took turns telling their life stories involving how and when they contracted HIV.
Ray, 27, told the story of how he contracted HIV at the age of 17.
“My story is one of those ones you don’t actually get to hear that often,” Ray said. “I was infected at the age of 17. The difference in my story is that growing up we knew a lot about HIV. Safer sex was always one of my practices. I went to college at fall and during my first semester I got really sick for a week. I didn’t get tested until I got back home that winter, which is when I found out.”
Ray, a public health worker, has been actively informing young adults about how to prevent contracting HIV ever since, traveling around the world to get the message out about HIV and how to prevent contraction of the virus.
Booker was the next to tell his story. He told the audience about the struggles he has faced since his diagnosis.
“I was born with HIV in 1987. I really didn’t understand it until I was 7; the doctors thought I was going to die. I experienced the worst you can experience about — I don’t want to say disease. My happiness, I’ll call it my happiness,” Booker said. “It made it very difficult for me to go to school. I was scared of what the next person was going to say.”
Booker, like Ray and the final speaker, Steven Holmes, is a public health worker and teacher who strives to inform young adults about HIV.
“I know I can’t change the world, but at least I can change a community — or a hospital, teenagers, schools, anything!” he said.
Holmes, 24, began by talking about his thoughts on living with HIV.
“HIV does not define who I am,” Holmes said.
Holmes was born with HIV and raised by his grandmother.
“For a moment in time, I just blamed my mom a whole lot,” Holmes said.
The stories were followed by a Q-and-A that invited the audience to ask any or all of the speakers questions about HIV. One student asked what the most common misconception about HIV is.
“You can’t give people AIDS,” Ray answered. “Only HIV is possible to transmit; AIDs is a progression of HIV so there’s no way in hell anyone can give someone AIDS.”
The speakers left their places at the front of the room to a standing ovation and were available afterward to talk to students in the audience.