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Issy Joseph

I’m a 28-year-old African American gay male and a native Houstonian.

I’m currently working as a part-time home health nurse and full time as an author, writer and blogger with a key focus on HIV/AIDS. I am also the owner and editor-in-chief of Project RED, Inc., an online magazine dedicated to dismantling the stigma and discrimination against People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). I previously worked as a pre-kindergarten teacher.

I was born in Houston’s Third Ward, but I grew up in the Hiram Clarke area, in the Windsor Village subdivision. I’ve been a volunteer for organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Pop Warner Youth Athletics and the Shape Center. Most recently, I volunteered with the AIDS Foundation of Houston, Houston Food Bank and Loaves & Fishes Soup Kitchen.

I have always been someone who has followed their heart’s desire and just like my life, my educational background has been through many phases. At the end of it, all of my educational experiences have left me well-versed with various skills that share a common purpose of helping others grow and being willing and able to educate others.

I earned a bachelor of arts degree in interdisciplinary studies-early childhood education from Texas Southern University in 2011 and a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice-human services from Colorado Technical University in 2015.

My interests are activism, advocacy and authorship. I enjoy writing, acting, music, dance, cheerleading, gymnastics, cooking, and spending time with my partner and little ones.

I have been through and survived every possible tragedy that a young, gay, black male, growing up in the south within a religious household could possibly go through. With my father being a minister, my siblings and I grew up in the church. Coming out was not an easy task and it brought its share of difficulties for me, but I have made amends with the past. It took some time, but my family respects my lifestyle choice and that’s all that I ask of them.

I know what it feels like to hit rock bottom several times in my life. In the end, those experiences have only made me stronger, wiser and more resilient. I no longer shy away or back down when I am in a difficult situation. Instead, I find solutions. Life isn’t that hard if you don’t want it to be, the solution is simple. Just like I always say, “when life gives you lemons, go to the grocery because the lemonade is already made.”

I have been blissfully committed for seven years. My partner is my best friend and part of the reason I am here today. When we met, I was in a very dark and difficult time in my life but with his unwavering love, he pulled me from the darkness and when I experienced two of the worst tragedies in my life, he did not turn his back on me. Instead, he showered me with love and support. He truly is my better and worst half and I couldn’t even ask for a better friend, lover or partner.

When I found out that I was HIV positive, I didn’t know what to do. I thought I had all the answers —being that I was a gay black male living in the south and having previously dated two people living with HIV — but I didn’t. I was ignorant of what life was actually like for a person living with HIV until I became one. I was ignorant to the stigma and discrimination that is placed upon HIV and the people living with the virus. Little did I know that I, too, had placed a stigma on PLWHA.

My motivation for being a part of this campaign is ignorance. I want to help dismantle the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS, especially within the LGBTQ community. I want to enlighten the ignorant so they won’t have to go through what I’ve been through. Living with HIV is not a cakewalk, but living with HIV is also not a burden.

I want to show people that living with HIV is more than just pills and doctor visits. Living with HIV is living life to its fullest potential, holding nothing back because at the end of it all, we are all fighters, crusaders, and survivors and at heart, we are all positive people because we all try to live positively. We are humans who are happy, incandescent and victorious.

I am HIV positive. My experience living with HIV has been a whirlwind of emotion, stability and triumph. The way that I contracted the virus is not a pretty story to tell. I went through a lot of different emotional and mental phases such as depression, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, social anxiety issues, and suicide.

It was difficult for me to cope with being HIV at first because coping would mean that I would have to confront the issues surrounding the way that I contracted the virus, but that issue was only the base of the issues I had with myself after finding out that I was HIV positive. I never really loved myself and after finding out that I was HIV positive, I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror.

I was once a person obsessed with beauty, but I no longer felt beautiful. That all changed when I started to accept my positive status. HIV taught me how to love myself, it showed me how to be strong and resilient, especially in the face of stigma which is something that I deal with on a daily basis from family, friends, peers and on social media. I remember being told by one of my many fans that I was a dirty, disgusting, disease-ridden homosexual who is being punished by God for living a sinful life that deserves to die in the most horrible way that a human can die.

Once upon a time, I would have believed every word, but now I walk with phenomenal poise. Overall, I think my experience with HIV has been pretty typical but unlike so many, I have been able to overcome the obstacles and barriers that keep PLWHA from living with HIV.

Being that I am a person living with HIV, I want people who are HIV positive and who have not yet begun getting treatment to know that HIV is not the end of life — but not getting treatment could be. When I found out that I was HIV positive, I was in disbelief. I had just moved in with my boyfriend and I wanted nothing more but to make our relationship work. I knew that HIV could possibly ruin everything, so I pushed my symptoms and the test results to the back of mind and never thought about it again until October 1, 2014, when I was laying in the emergency room of a hospital and now showing symptoms of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

To feel your body shut down is one of the worst feelings in the world and I wouldn’t wish that feeling upon anyone. When I was diagnosed, my CD4 was 94 but during my week stay at St. Luke’s Hospital, they had started me on a High Active Anti-retroviral Treatment, also known as HAART. Upon leaving the hospital, I was prescribed three HIV medications that I took three times a day in an effort to boost my CD4 from 94 to above 200. When I began regular treatment at the Thomas Street Health Clinic in December 2014, my CD4 was 281 and within three months after that, my CD4 was 431 and I was undetectable.

In sharing my experience, I want people to know that treatment works. It saved my life.

I have not been on PrEP as a use for HIV prevention, but I have taken Truvada as a part of my anti-retroviral treatment. With HIV rates among the African American, Hispanic and Transgender communities on the rise once again, PrEP is the game-changer when it comes to life, love, freedom and happiness. We never know with whom we may fall in love or what extra luggage they may bring. PrEP is giving people living with HIV the confidence to get out there, date and find true, everlasting happiness. PrEP is humanizing HIV and breaking down the wall build between positive and negative people. For some, knowing that there is something they can to do to help protect themselves — especially within the LGBTQ community — gives people a second chance to rise up for love.

With 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States and one out of seven people being unaware that they are HIV positive according to the CDC, getting tested on a regular basis is very important, especially if you are a person who has an active sex life and/or you engage in high-risk sexual behavior. Getting tested is giving you a chance to save a life, your life. I believe that everyone should know their status, just like there is no ignorance to the law, there should be no ignorance to your health. You don’t want to be that one out of seven.

Starting HIV treatment is giving you a chance to save your life, staying in HIV treatment is giving you a chance to live your life. As mentioned, when I was diagnosed, my CD4 was 94 but during my weeklong stay at St. Luke’s Hospital, they had started me on a High Active Antiretroviral Treatment also known as HAART. When I began regular treatment, my CD4 was 281 and within three months, my CD4 was 431 and I was undetectable and as we now know, undetectable equals untransmittable, which is the most important reason why a person living with HIV should get treatment and stay in treatment. The medication is used to keep your viral load down and CD4 up — which means you get to live a long and healthy life.


LGBTQ issues are not gay, bisexual or trans issues. They are people issues, the freedom to be who we are and to love whom we want shouldn’t be defined by any government. Our constitution states that everyone should be granted a chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that’s all we are trying to do. I care about all the issues, even the ones that don’t directly or personally affect me because if it affects my brother or sister, it affects me, too.

Being a person of color and someone who identifies as an LGBTQ, I know that we spend our whole lives screaming “I am here, I exist, I matter,” and it is all in the pursuit of freedom and equality.

Too often, the picture is painted that finding out that you are HIV positive is easy, but in reality, it isn’t. I don’t want to paint that perfect picture or create a façade; I want to show people that in the face of trauma, adversity, shame, guilt, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and suicidal thoughts or tendencies, you can overcome the scariest of demons.

I want to show people that HIV is not the end of the road, but just a detour that will be full of bumps, roadblocks and exits but if you just keep on driving, you will eventually reach your destination. That is the story that I want to tell because that is my story and the story of so many people just like me