Like so many of us, Wayne has come a long way to get where he is today. When he speaks to groups of people about his experiences living with HIV, he shares stories of a past tormented by alcohol and drug addiction, being homeless for 14 years, facing the stigma of being a gay black man, and also living with HIV.
Wayne was diagnosed with HIV after giving plasma. That day, he came home to find his partner’s “works,” confronted him about his drug use, and left. This series of life-changing events that happened in such a short time led Wayne back home to his family in Tucson, and eventually into a new life.
After his HIV test result, Wayne returned home to his family to let them know that he was living with HIV. He was shocked to discover that his family already knew. His medical records had already been sent to his grandmother’s house, and the first thing that she had read was that Wayne had HIV. This led her to believe that he was already dead and that she would never see him again. When he arrived home, he received a welcome from her that would never be forgotten. From that time on, his grandmother played a very important role in Wayne’s life.
After Wayne had returned home, he was still drinking and smoking cocaine, and eventually his grandmother confronted him.
She herself was battling cancer. She was in extreme pain but couldn’t let go until she knew that Wayne would take care of himself, until she knew that Wayne would be okay.
It was the defining moment in Wayne’s life. He went into a treatment program and has been clean since March 15, 2001.
Wayne’s family has been very supportive of him on his journey. He has been blessed with a hardworking and wise father who taught him to give back to the community.
Wayne has dedicated his life to confronting stigma and educating people about HIV/AIDS with bravery, creativity, and humor—he never takes a break from his mission. Two years ago, Wayne had his picture in the newspaper after a TIHAN Thanksgiving dinner for people with HIV at Mother Hubbard’s Restaurant. A few days later, while riding the bus, Wayne was confronted, yet again, with stigma that surrounds HIV. A woman riding the bus recognized Wayne from his picture in the paper. She walked onto the bus, and as she moved past him, she said, “I won’t sit next to you ‘cause you have AIDS.” Even though he was tired, Wayne was not going to take a day off from standing up to discrimination. He felt that the woman’s judgment should not be accepted with silence and shame. So Wayne went and sat down near her. She moved, and Wayne followed and sat down near her again. She kept moving until the bus driver stopped the bus and asked, “What’s going on here?”
Wayne laid it out and said, “This woman has a problem with me because I have AIDS.” So the bus driver told her, “You can’t catch HIV from sitting next to someone. If you don’t want to sit next to someone with HIV, then get off my bus.” And she did.
Wayne stood up to injustice, and confronted bigotry—not with violence, but with a determination to NOT allow someone to make him feel less than a full person.
Instead of living in the shadows, Wayne steps out into the light, speaks out and sets an example, empowering others who are living with HIV, and empowering people to do the right thing and move beyond their fears and their prejudices.
Wayne has a spirit of life within him that radiates love, and it is evident from his peers’ respect for him and his courageous journey. He walks into a room and spreads cheer to everyone around him. He volunteers with TIHAN, and has grown into a peer leadership role.
In February 2007, Wayne was honored with TIHAN’s “Empowerment Award,” presented each year to a person living with HIV who exhibits exceptional courage and achievement. Wayne has come a long way, and his story is one of
finding strength on the inside and support on the outside to rise from amazingly-difficult circumstances and better himself and inspire others to become better people as well.
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