Tony Edwin Diaz
My name is Tony Edwin Diaz and I am a 23-year-old queer, Latinx male. I was born in Houston and grew up in Fort Bend, Alief and Cypress areas. I am also a limited scope radiographer, and my work involves taking basic x-rays of the skeletal system and the basic human anatomy.
Studying and working in the medical has given me some insight about the human body and how diseases are transmitted, how some diseases can be cured while others must be controlled. I’ve learned to rely on factual information instead of biased opinions.
I’ve moved around a lot and never really stayed in one area. I had a bunch of “fresh starts” which taught me to adapt to any environment. I also became more of an extrovert and built my communication skills.
Growing up and attending school, I was called derogatory names and physically hurt because of my “tendencies.” I was confused about my internal feelings and about being labeled. I didn’t know what “gay” really was. I’d never had an interaction with a gay person in my life. All I knew was, “they will go to hell.” My family never told me that, but I got it from outside influences — churches, television, etc. I was naïve, and in my head, all I wanted was for people to stop treating me bad and to be my friend, but I couldn’t get rid of “it.” How can you run from your own mind?
Years of therapy helped me overcome my depression and realize there was nothing wrong with me as a person and I didn’t deserve to die. I came out as gay around age 14 or 15. This was 2009, and society was becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community, but not quite there yet. When I came out, I was at a new school in a new area, and so I took the opportunity to be the real me. I came out on social media (Myspace) and I told my mother and everyone just caught on, including my 10 aunts and uncles and all my cousins. It was the best decision of my life.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and it devastated me and my family. My mother was the only parent I truly knew and recognized, so I had to be strong at home. I had a 15-year-old brother and a 7-year-old sister. My mother underwent three surgeries and I assisted her as much as I could — washing her, feeding her, changing her, cleaning her wounds. It grows you as a person. The innocence was gone and maturity took its place.
Two friends ended their lives a year later. One friend I saw on a Super Bowl night, and the next day, all over my news feed, I saw he had passed away. It was crazy. I went to his funeral a week later in Louisiana. I thought about the importance of mental health. What hit me so hard with his death was the conversation we had that night. He told me about his family’s rejection of him, about his recent HIV diagnosis, abusive relationships and drug addiction — all the issues so prevalent in the LGBTQ community.
My other friend also suffered from a deep depression. There was just no way out of it, and he also passed away too soon. It makes me feel blessed that I overcame my depression.
I became motivated about the Project PrIDE campaign because I want to be a voice to those who are gay, straight, trans or bisexual who don’t know what to expect in the real world. I want to be relatable and help reduce the number of HIV cases now, and in the future. A language barrier should not be an issue, and as a bilingual person, I’d like to reach those who only speak Spanish or who are immigrants. At times, it’s harder to get information to those who are foreign-born, and I would like to be a bridge to those people. I want to help stop something that has been haunting the gay community since the 1980s. I want to do something for my community. Houston is my city and nothing brings me more joy than to know I am helping my hometown become more alert and more educated on health issues.
I am not on PrEP at the moment, but I have been. I got on PrEP while I was involved with someone who is HIV undetectable. I was 21 when I learned about PrEP and HIV. PrEP gives you peace of mind and one less thing to worry about — if it fits your lifestyle. Unfortunately, African-Americans, Hispanics and transgender persons are most affected by HIV. It’s important to get tested not only for your health, but the health of others.
It’s most important to me that we should all support each other. Our community was started as a secret. We were punished for being who we are, when society didn’t accept us, we only had each other. I want our gay youth to suffer less. I want them to have available outreach, if they need it.
To me, “Live Healthy, Live Longer” means taking care of yourself and having positive, productive habits. Living longer means living life to the fullest in the short amount of time we have. “I am here. I exist. I matter,” means no one can act like you’re not around. It means my life has value and people who are like me are valuable. You will hear my voice and I will not go away.