17 years ago I went to Florida to swim with the dolphins with my mom and my little sister and we were standing on the dock watching the dolphins do their thing and I looked down and I noticed this bump on my leg where it met my body and I showed it to my sister my mom and they didn't think it was anything too serious and I went home and I showed it to my doctor and neither did he he gave me some regular blood tests Thanks and and to come back you know in a week and we'll we'll see what this is and we'll get it cleared up get a phone call a couple days later and he said your blood work is inconclusive and show some things we want you to come back in so I sought an exam room for a while then they finally brought me into his private quarters which I thought was a bit strange but they said we're just over stretched with people today and we need you to be in his room and then the door banged open and five people in lab coats walked in the first thing I thought was oh my god this is so serious that my doctors brought in backup and the second thing I thought was what in God's name did the Dolphins give me I mean as you can see I've been kissing them and I had some weird tropical disease from the Dolphins and he said I I don't really know how to say this I'm just going to tell you that you're living with HIV and my mind just exploded I'd been so careful I really thought I'd known what I was doing with my body over the years I'd been careful but obviously not careful enough I'd had unprotected sex and contracted HIV so I asked him how long I had to live it was 17 years ago he said about a year maybe two I said may have a baby he said probably not a good idea we now know that you can have a baby as a woman with HIV and not pass the virus on to the baby and then I said can I have sex because I thought if I was gonna die and not have a baby and leave anything behind I could at least maybe have some sex and enjoy myself before I died but he said also probably not a good idea fortunately it was okay and I got a I got a second opinion on that but I didn't know what to do and neither did he he was a GP and actually this happens still today where people get diagnosed by someone who's not aware of HIV and and doesn't really know how to talk to their patients about it luckily he gave me a prescription for xanax and the number the gay men's health crisis and I filled the prescription which was disappointingly but wisely only a couple of pills and called the gay men's health crisis and I said I'm not gay I'm not a man but I am totally in crisis and this young man on the phone talked to me for about an hour and a half and over the days since my diagnosis throughout a week really held me together and so I made it through the first week didn't tell anyone for a long time told the person I had recently been with he was tested and positive and then I went back through my history and you can imagine those for some unpleasant phone calls but luckily no one else is positive so we isolated the person and he was cared for but you know I survived the first week with the idea that would be medically okay but even from those first days I thought this is not a disease emotionally that anyone is really prepared to take on and I didn't tell anyone for three months I just could not do it I could not bring myself to say the words to my parents but eventually the secret was eating me alive and so I told my mother who was wonderful and gracious and until my father who was awesome and then my mother I told my little sister and my little sister is on the right and I met her at the train station we were best friends and I could see she came off the train all the way down the platform that she had already been told I could see it in her face and she said to me as soon as we were close we're going to kick this thing's ass you're going to survive this and we went in to Burger King and we we always did at the train station and we made this um you know our lake of ketchup we said mix ketchup and barbecue sauce and you know share that together in between us and she didn't not share my ketchup she double dipped her fries in my ketchup and that was the first moment that I felt like I was going to maybe be okay because she was not treating me like a leper and so did not be treated by a leper and to have three of the most important people in my life say that it was okay that I had this disease not great but but they would stand by me was was critical so I was medically okay and the drugs really do work it was at the time when new drugs were just being released we weren't really sure what the long-term side effects would be we didn't really know whether they look they would work long term we now know that treatment doubles as prevention and people who adhere to the drugs properly and your viral load can be completely suppressed so that actually you're not infectious I mean you are technically still living with HIV you do need to take precautions but it it's like being on antibiotics when when you have the flu people around you feel a little bit safer and in fact you have reduced the risk of the spread of HIV so I was medically okay but not emotionally and the stigma was crushing and I I thought well how can i I don't want to put this level of shame on myself and I don't want to wear the shame that some in society would have me wear so how can I change my mind how can I see this differently so I started with the fact that what had I done so I'd had unprotected sex which is something literally that all of our mothers did right so I mean you know somewhere along the line I don't know does this keep going forward that oh this is me hold on there um somewhere along the line everyone's mother had unprotected sex so if I did something truly terrible that everyone's mom was in the same boat the other thing I realized was that HIV really is just a virus it's it's a beautiful beautiful virus in terms of how it works I went to my doctor and asked him to show it to me I said I want to know what this uninvited houseguest looks like in my home and I came to appreciate its beauty and understand it was just trying to live like I am I mean it was just doing what all living creatures do but more importantly it was a virus nothing more nothing less I had had unprotected sex and a virus happened to be present someone else had unprotected sex the virus didn't happen to be present that doesn't make me a terrible person it makes me a biologically unlucky one and that's an important distinction and then I thought about well what if we didn't get HIV sexually what if you could like inhale it and just sniff it in and you could get HIV would it be different yeah because we associate HIV with sex and sexuality which for some people is an uncomfortable topic in a world where we're often driven by sex thinking about sex is all around us we still haven't gotten that comfortable talking about sex and so I think it's the association with sex and sexuality that makes people uncomfortable about HIV when I talk to school children I often say you know this is a disease of my immune system sexual transmission is one way you can get HIV but it's not the only way and it's really my immune system that is not well the virus borrows the cells of my immune system destroys them in the process of its replication at a rate faster than the body can rub me to reproduce those immune system cells so that your immune system eventually becomes unhealthy and so you die then of things that you wouldn't ordinarily die of pneumonia opportunistic infections if you can keep your immune system strong which the medications do you're perfectly healthy and normal and you have a very strong immune system so it's just a virus it's got a medical solution we have tools that can really keep people alive with HIV but there's this thing called stigma that is just devastating when someone gets cancer they get flowers when someone has breast cancer you know they have a whole support system but for HIV it's different you can get stigmatized ostracized discriminated against criminalized even killed in some countries in some places so after ten years of not dying but living in silence and not telling even a single friend because I was so afraid of the shame that I might feel I decided to work as a journalist behind the scenes I worked for a magazine called paws anonymously eventually I decided that I'm going to come back to that this motto silence equals death and this is a piece of art from Grand fury which was the clarion call of act up in New York in the early days remain true if we don't talk about this if we don't tell people how not to get it if we don't tell people that the drugs can save your life they will continue to die they will continue to get the disease unnecessary so finally I found the courage to come forward and actually come out from from being anonymous and was on the cover of paws magazine and became its editor and then I've worked since that time and now have a good fortune to work at un AIDS a UN agency focused on ending aids worldwide so I came forward and did my own brand of speaking out what has happened to me health in terms of my own personal health is that I now am no longer harboring that shame and the people around me who I meet who are in the same position who haven't spoken out it just takes one person for me it was the people who I saw who came before me that helped me and it was in my case a group of young gay men in a support group there were no support groups for straight women so I just said can I glom on and I said sure and I I wasn't comfortable talking about sex and this group of gay men made me very comfortable talking about sex my body and everything that happened to it and also the agency that I could have with what would happen to my body you know that's something we don't teach people and we certainly don't teach children you know sex is something that we all are going to have eventually and I know that it makes people uncomfortable to talk about young children having sex but why not arm them with information before the fact why not tell them what they can do to do this well and do this safely we don't put kids and cars and say you know not teach them where the brakes are or the seatbelt or the turn signal and say good luck with that we teach them how to drive a car so if we could teach them about their bodies how they work and how to put themselves and keep themselves in positive situations that would be great in fact I was probably I'm guessing was probably five years ago I had my first really good sex ed class in that building that's the White House for those of you it sounds a little weird not in the White House but we had a meeting about women and HIV associated with a White House event and it was at that meeting for the first time when I saw an OBGYN stand up in a group of 150 very powerful women Congress women diplomats very very intelligent people and say okay who in this room knows the angle of a woman's vagina when she's standing at the vertical and we're all like oh oh and like horror I'm like people leaning backward and trying to figure it out and she finally said 45 degrees to the vertical on the back but I thought you know here it is one of the most important one most central issues in people's lives and we haven't found a way to become comfortable talking about it then we don't talk about HIV because if it's linked to it so I don't know that the solution is making everyone comfortable about sex or talking about sex but it's a good place to start and I have in the work that I've done come to realize that almost anyone can talk about sex comfortably if they just are given license to and they practice it a bit my mom and I had never talked about sex until I got HIV and I would sit in the doctor's offices with her and think you know here's a woman who had sex and had me and knows that I have had sex but we had never had these conversations the fact that we've been able to talk about the things that we have has brought us so much closer together so I'm hopeful that if my mom and I can have easy conversations about sex now that anybody can have the comfortable section conversations about sex I think that where we are in the world right now with HIV and AIDS is that we have a solution that's the easiest one we've ever faced we have an opportunity before so it's remarkable we have two-thirds of the people in the world not on treatment but we have the treatment that works we have prevention that works we have political will we still have a great deal of capital being applied we're further along in the science and we ever have been on the cure and vaccine fronts we're talking literally about ending this epidemic in our lifetime it will not be easy it will not be cheap it will not be overnight there's no silver bullet but the one thing that will help us do that and allow us to apply the tools that we have in a very broad and even-handed way is to take the hysteria out of this topic you know when you think about it everybody deserves access to health care everybody deserves a shot at surviving some viral and dinner that comes into their body and when you look at what happened with breast cancer back in the early days they couldn't even talk about the first lady's breast cancer when Betty Ford announced that she had it because they couldn't say breast they couldn't say cancer on the evening news and there and the reporters like how we're going to talk about the story so I think now you know you can get on an airplane in October and you can have a half-priced pink margarita because we're going to give money to breast cancer and celebrate it we've come so far I don't see why we cannot come to the place in the world where we can be on an airplane and get a half-price Bloody Mary for AIDS you know I mean I just feel like we can get there and while all it takes is opening up our minds rethinking the way that we've thought about this and realizing that people who are living with HIV like myself are not bad people but they're pretty good people with a really bad disease and that we will do better we will do much better and our personal health and therefore public health because when we're on medication we're less infectious will improve and all we need is the support of people like you all around the world who just rethink why we think it should be is so terrible and have the courage to talk about it with your friends with your family members with your kids with each other and take the hysteria out of it and that is the path to the end of AIDS and I am grateful for all the people who came before me who had the courage to speak about this it still takes the spit from my mouth when I think about coming to a group of people and having to say I have HIV but I do it so that someone else doesn't have to sit in the doctor's office someday and have that door bang open and have five people in a lab coat walk in and say I have something to tell you you have HIV you're going to die of AIDS that doesn't have to happen and speaking about it is the key to ending it so thank you very much you