Woman Speaks Out About HIV Ahead of Nat'l Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va (WVIR) -
Friday is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. While Charlottesville outreach groups are urging people to get tested, one woman living with the virus is speaking out.
When Tinera Calloway found out she was HIV positive she thought her life was over.
"It was the most horrible thing that you could ever imagine being told," she said.
She contracted the virus from a boyfriend she dated for several years.
"I was dating him for approximately five years and he never told me he was positive," she said. "After we dated for a year using condoms he convinced me to not use condoms because he had moved in with me and his words were 'It's just us. Why do we need to use condoms?’"
She said the man showed no signs of having HIV. "I never saw him taking meds. There was one or two times when I saw him taking something and I was like “What are you taking?’ and he was like 'Oh my stomach is messed up,'" she said. "I just blew it off because he was very healthy looking, his body was very sharp and cut and I just never imagined that he was positive."
But Calloway said her boyfriend intentionally infected her. "He never admitted it until three months before he died," she said. "It was devastating, it was very devastating."
Back in 1998 when Calloway found out she was HIV positive, she said having the virus often meant death. "I knew other people who had HIV and who had died and it was a horrible death," Calloway said. "In the Washington area, where I lived, people didn't live two or three years with the disease. It was scary, it was really scary."
But Calloway's life moved forward. She got medications and eventually met a new man. "That was another scary thing because after becoming positive I was like ‘Oh my God I'm not going to find anybody, nobody is going to want me because I'm HIV positive,'" she said.
Calloway avoided intimacy with her new boyfriend for months.
"I didn't want him to have the same situation. I wanted him to have a choice as to whether he had sex with me. I didn't have a choice. I fell in love with this guy before I knew he was HIV positive," she said. "I refuse to do that to anyone else."
She eventually brought him to a doctor’s appointment to tell him. "My boyfriend grabbed my hand and he was like ‘Is that all? I love you.’ And we were married two years later," she said.
"It wasn't something that bothered me because I was familiar with HIV," her husband Dariek Calloway said. "I thought she was going to tell me she was... Dying or something."
In fact, Dariek said he had already considered the fact that she may have had the virus due to her reservations about intimacy and his knowledge of her past drug use and lifestyle. "I was like... 'Oh, was that it?' Because I had a suspicion of what it was," he said. "She had told me about her past life so I kind of suspected some of that but I did not think that was going to be a problem."
Dariek still gets tested regularly. After almost seven years of marriage he still hasn't gotten HIV.
But Tinera is not alone. According to Charlottesville's AIDS/HIV Services group, in Virginia, African Americans are nine times more likely than whites to be HIV positive, and 77 percent of women living with HIV/AIDS are black.
"So it's really important that we get the word out to that community about the importance of getting tested," said Eric Mayes, the environmental strategies coordinator for ASG. "We're really trying to expand our outreach to the African American community and the Hispanic community."
Mayes and Tinera Calloway both agree, as scary as it can be, knowing your status is crucial.
"If you know your status you can deal with it and it's not the same as it used to be. Now you can live a perfectly healthy life being HIV positive," said Mayes.
"My motto is GI Joe's motto 'Knowing is half the battle.' If you know then you can be proactive, you can be a part of your healthcare team, you can work together with your doctors to suppress the disease and live a healthy life," Calloway said.
And Calloway said she does feel healthy now.
"A lot of people will say 'Oh, you're HIV positive (gasp) get away from me.’ At least I know what my status is. I know that I'm HIV positive. I know that if I have sex, I have to use a condom," she said. "There are people out here who are having unprotected sex who don't know their HIV status. Who don't know the person they're involved with's HIV status and it's a dangerous... It's very scary."
Everyone is being urged to get tested Friday for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, not just African Americans. ASG is hosting a free testing event Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Newcomb Hall Kaleidoscope Room.
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