Jeffery Edwards-Knight has been living with HIV for more than 30 years and is committed every day to making life easier for individuals who are newly diagnosed with HIV. He works in the testing outreach program for Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, coaching newly diagnosed people through the difficult early days of being positive, accompanying them to doctors’ offices, and serving as support during a time of serious change. He works largely with young Black men, and he knows that the combination of a lack of understanding around HIV, a lack of local nondiscrimination laws, and systemic anti-Black racism can make it especially challenging for folks to live freely and get the care they deserve.
“The fight for better understanding and treatment for people living with HIV in North Carolina is personal for me,” Jeffery wrote in an op-ed. “I know what it feels like to be treated differently because of my status. Many years ago, visiting my mother for her birthday, I suddenly became sick, requiring a trip to an emergency room. Over the course of the appointment the physician learned that I am gay and HIV-positive. Visibly uncomfortable, he left the room. When he returned, he stood at the back of the room and talked to me from there. His tone and approach changed the minute he learned of my status and put both physical and figurative distance between us.”
“Yes, that was a long time ago,” he continues. “But subtle experiences like that have shaped my approach to seeking standard health care, making me fear that if I go somewhere new, the provider could be judgmental or outright discriminatory because of my sexual orientation and HIV status. Together, we can — and must — build a nation where no one faces discrimination because of who they are or whom they love.”