Positively Aware Rick Guasco
By Rick Guasco

10:20 AM: Chicago, Illinois

Rae Lewis-Thornton: At 56 years old, I’m more comfortable than ever in my skin. I’ve lived with HIV for 35 years and I know my life is a living example that each day with HIV can be a life well lived. Each and every day I embrace the life that I have and I do everything that must be done to thrive in spite of HIV! I know that Grace abides even where shame resides and it’s that Grace which has given me my power in the face of HIV/AIDS.

How do you make the point that everyone is affected by HIV and the stigma that surrounds it? By inviting people everywhere to capture a moment of their lives, all within the same 24-hour period, and calling it A Day with HIV.

Since 2010, POSITIVELY AWARE has designated a day in September, around the autumnal equinox, as the date for its annual anti-stigma campaign. Over 250 people across the U.S.—with a number of others from nine other countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Philippines, Poland, and the United Kingdom—answered the call, taking a snapshot of their day on September 21.

Participants posted their pictures on social media, along with a caption detailing the time, location, and what inspired them to take the photo, accompanied by the hashtag #daywithhiv. Photo submissions were also uploaded to the campaign’s website adaywithhiv.com, creating an online gallery of the day.

11:17 AM: Manila, the Philippines

Yomi: As an HIV counselor, I trained for three years at one of the largest treatment facilities in the Philippines. Every session with a client leaves me thinking. Ultimately, you are also a client, in need of care and attention. You will be just a little different, because you are on the frontline, assuring them that there is still life after becoming HIV positive. There is hope as long as you help yourself to stand up again.

“Enjoying the end of summer sun before the fall winds blow,” says Katie Willingham. “Even in rural Alabama HIV is a reality, so get tested and know your status!”

For some, HIV is just one of a number of health conditions they are living with. In addition to testing HIV positive in 2004, Cindy Pivacic has survived two strokes, cancer, and a massive heart attack, in contrast to the scenic tranquility of her picture taken among the penguins at Boulders Beach, South Africa: “Nothing should be allowed to impede your life,” she says, “no matter what.”

Fitness is often key for many people who manage life with HIV, and a number of photos submitted were taken at the gym. Phillip Shipton started his day in Sydney, Australia with an 8 a.m. workout, while Eliane Becks Nininahazwe hit the gym in Amsterdam that afternoon. Tamara Mayfield Dietrich led a POUND Rockout fitness class outdoors in Quincy, Illinois.

11:30 AM: Washington, D.C.

Ronald Shannon and Demetrius Smith: On A Day with HIV, the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS) is excited to take part in eliminating stigma and celebrating the lives of those living with HIV!

A good many photos were submitted by people active one way or another in the fight against HIV—activists, advocates, case managers, counselors, and researchers. Ronald Shannon and Demetrius Smith took a moment from their work at the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services in Washington, D.C. After a lunch meeting, Michael Louella at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center remembered to take his picture. In between clients, Yomi, an HIV counselor in Manila, in the Philippines, paused for a moment of reflection. As blogger Mark S. King says in the caption of his photo, “Activism is joy. Activism is life.”

For others, A Day with HIV was the opportunity to do something different. Informed that her photo was among the seven chosen for the four foldout covers of the issue, Kamaria Laffrey expressed the personal significance of the picture she had taken: “That pic was so out of my comfort zone, but I’m learning to embrace my body on a newer level now. Loving myself, at least learning to, is not a one-time event, but a process. Thank you so much for seeing me.”  —Rick Guasco