The experience is your own, but you’re not alone in the room

There’s something to be said about sitting in a darkened room with a bunch of a strangers, watching a film in a movie theater. Everyone is sharing the same experience, but how they react is uniquely their own response. That’s the concept behind the cover of this year’s HIV drug guide.

The nine people who took part in the drug guide cover shoot are all living with HIV. They shared their experiences and insights.

Armando Ramirez-Guzman, 38, has been living with HIV since 2003. The cover’s concept resonated with him: “I not only advocate, I want people to understand that living with HIV is not an obstacle. You can live life, go out and have fun, and enjoy a movie date.”

Joshua B. Stovall, 37, has been HIV positive 14 years: “I decided to be a part of this photo shoot to show my support of being in care, staying in care, and becoming virally suppressed. The power we all possess is to know. Knowing is half the battle. Knowledge is the pursuit of happiness.”

Danielle Kruse, 48, was diagnosed with HIV in July 2016: “I was told I had been HIV positive for 12–20 years prior to my diagnosis. I want to encourage people to use PrEP and to get tested. I was a naïve Iowa girl who never thought I would get HIV. Anyone can get it. I took part in this photo shoot to break the stereotype of ‘who gets HIV,’ and to erase stigma.”

Duane Cramer, 56, has been living with HIV since 1996; his father passed away in 1986 as a result of complications from HIV/AIDS: “I want to ensure that people who look like me and are like me—black, same-gender-loving men—are always represented in the rainbow of those affected by HIV. Black men who have sex with men still account for more than half of newly diagnosed cases of HIV and those living with HIV. So, for me, it is critical that we are visible, vocal, and open about our status.”

A noted professional photographer himself, Cramer commented on the images from the shoot. “A key message that comes through is that taking HIV meds is simply a routine for those of us who happen to be HIV positive. My HIV treatment program is a small part of my daily life. Though mundane—like taking a shower, having a meal, or simply going to a movie, it is important.”

For D’Eva Longoria, 43, a heterosexual transgender Latina, living life openly raises awareness and combats stigma: “You are stronger than HIV! It has been almost 10 years since I was diagnosed and I am at the happiest moment of my life!”

Doug Ferguson, 47, reflected on living more than half his life with HIV: “When I first learned about my HIV status, there were only a couple of medications available to treat HIV. My first HIV specialist advised me that I likely had no more than 10 years before I would develop AIDS and die. I’ve now lived for more than twice that time, thanks to advances in treatment. I’ve been symptom-free, healthy, and happy! I even finished an Ironman competition in 2012!”

“Being HIV positive for over 17 years has not slowed me down,” says René Garza, 55, who has been positive since February 2002. “In fact, it’s made me make better choices about my diet and exercise, and take better care of myself. For me, life goes on.”

“Stay positive and learn everything you can from your doctor and your own research,” offers Joseph Hutto, 35, who has been reading Positively Aware ever since he was diagnosed seven years ago. “Knowledge is power! Use every resource you can get your hands on to arm yourself with information so you can best manage and maintain your own health and well being. Live life loudly and proudly!”

As the photo shoot neared completion, 67-year-old Judy Brown, HIV positive 26 years, looked about the set and observed, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

—Rick Guasco

The cover and additional pictures from this series were photographed by John Gress and styled by Wyll Knight, at Pride Arts Center, in Chicago