I’m Positive—World AIDS Day Documentary

Nov 30, 2012, 10:10 AM

Otis Harris Jr. Otis Harris Jr.

On World AIDS Day, Saturday, December 1, I’m Positive, a new documentary produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation and MTV, will introduce three young adults living with HIV. The documentary is part of a project called GYT: Get Yourself Tested, a campaign to encourage testing for STDs, including HIV. GYT is a sexual health public information partnership between the Kaiser Family Foundation and MTV.

NewPublicHealth spoke with cast member Otis Harris, who is an HIV/AIDS peer advocate who lives in Chicago.

NewPublicHealth: How old are you and how old were you when you found out that you were HIV positive?

Otis Harris Jr.: I am 25 years old and I was 22 [when I found out I was HIV positive].

NPH: What do you wish you had known then that you know now?

Otis Harris Jr.: I wish that I could have been a little more educated about the virus and what to look for and how to protect myself. And if I would have known what I know now then I probably wouldn’t have been infected.

NPH: People have been working on HIV/AIDS education efforts for so many years now, but clearly they weren’t getting through. What are the ways in which they didn’t communicate well and how can they communicate better?

Otis Harris Jr.: I think the main thing is instead of lecturing someone; I would go in and talk to them as if I was a big brother. I want them to get comfortable with me before I just go in and say sit down and listen, I need you to do this or I need you to do that. Just go in and have a conversation. I think that is the key. Because I remember at that age and even now, you don’t want anyone lecturing you. You want someone to understand and be human and give you some tools that you can use.

NPH: So if someone can get your confidence first then you are more likely to be listening?

Otis Harris Jr.: Right, exactly. You also have a lot of people who beat down or start judging or constantly focus on things that you are not doing.

NPH: Public health experts are concerned because there seems to be a growing number of young adults who say they actually want to be HIV-positive. Have you had a chance to speak to kids who feel that way?

Otis Harris Jr.: Yes, I’ve had kids say to me,I want to be HIV positive.” It hurts when I hear that. Why would you want to do that? Not everyone takes that diagnosis and copes with it well. You have people who feel like they want to die. And even when they have people around them telling them they aren’t going to die, they can live, they give up anyway and try to commit suicide and may not have a support system like I have.

NPH: When you speak to young people do you think they usually understand the seriousness of the disease?

Otis Harris Jr.: Often not, because they feel like “all I have to do now is take a pill.” They don’t know that you also have to deal with complications. I tell them, are you ready for the stigma that is going to come your way? Are you ready for any side effects that may come from taking this medication? Are you ready to be labeled as HIV positive? And then once you throw that out there, it’s like, “Well I didn’t really look at it this way. I thought since you were doing so well that maybe if I became infected then I would be good too.” No! If they came out with a cure today or tomorrow, trust and believe that I would be one of the first people in line to go get that cure.

NPH: What’s do you want most want to share from your own experience?

Otis Harris Jr.: I just want young people to get educated, use protection, get tested, and if you happen to be HIV positive, please get in care.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.