Humphrey Gorriceta is one of the first Filipinos to publicly reveal his HIV-positive status after he was diagnosed in January 2008 while working as an operations supervisor in a business process outsourcing company in Manila.
The 34-year-old says based on personal experience “people are more accepting when they HIV literate” and so, he has made it his life’s mission to educate his family, friends, people he meets in his daily life and people he has yet to meet about HIV.
Humphrey recalled an incident where he tested positive during a drug test when he tried to renew his driver’s licence. When he was asked by the nurse to come back after a week as they were going to send his urine sample to the Department of Health, he decided to explain his HIV status and conducted an ART (Anti-Retroviral treatment) 101 on the spot with his mom, medical technician, nurse and doctor in attendance to account for the false positive. He got his driver’s licence in an hour.
“People discriminate because of their lack of knowledge about HIV. It’s human nature to be afraid of what we don’t know. That is why HIV educational advocacies are very important.” Said the spokesperson for the National Federation of Filipino Living with HIV and AIDS (NAFFWA) which represents PLHIV (People Living with HIV/AIDS) community-based groups in Philippines.
Humphrey tells Fridae what drives him in his advocacy work, his coming out journey and how coming out strengthened his familial bond and friendships.
æ: Who was the first person you spoke to after you received your initial positive test result? Why did you choose to tell this person?
Humphrey: When I got tested the first person to find out was the guy I was dating. He was with me when I got my HIV test results. He is a doctor so it was easy for me to tell him about my status.
æ: How has your HIV status affected your love and sex life?
Humphrey: The first year after finding out my status was a little difficult. I did not want to engage in any sexual activities because I felt that it was through unsafe sex that I got infected. Also there is the fear of accidentally infecting others. Although I’ve learned about safe sex and condom use, I still felt fearful engaging in sexual activities.
I came out to my friends about a year later and I started dating again. It wasn't an easy process but I was eventually able to tell the guys I dated about my status. It was amazing because I was never discriminated against. They understood and accepted me despite my being positive. But before I told them my status, I gradually educated them… I was giving them HIV 101 in instalments. I think that’s what made it relatively easy for them to accept my status.
æ: How do you decide whether to tell someone your HIV status?
Humphrey: I feel that people need to know about HIV and how to protect themselves. Coming out gives me the opportunity to educate people. More often than not, people ask a lot of question about HIV and I take advantage of the opportunity to change their mind if they have any misconception(s) about the virus.
I also feel that it’s right to tell people I care about, that I am HIV-positive. It shows respect and reinforces the fact that I care for them.
æ: What is one myth about living with HIV that you’ve now realise was incorrect?
Humphrey: When I learned that I am HIV-positive, I thought I was only going to have three years to live, five the most. But I was mistaken. I realised that there is still life after infection. For me it was a more productive and loving life.
æ: Has your relationship with your family and friends changed or evolved after you found out you are HIV-positive? If so, how?
Humphrey: It certainly did. I became closer to my family. The same is true with my friends. After I disclosed my status to my family, I realised that I’ve wasted so much time thinking about my self and despite what happened to me, my family still accepted me and understood what I was going through. It was hard for them at first but they were able to get through it. Of course I did my part educating and comforting them.
The same is true for my friends. I received the most loving words from friends and they stood by me and never judged me.
æ: Have you started Anti-Retroviral treatment (ART)?
Humphrey: Yes I am on antiretroviral drugs ever since I was tested positive. My CD4 was at 250 when I got my first count. I had a reaction with Nevirapine and I was hospitalised. I shifted to Efavirenze which gave a side effect. I get really dizzy an hour after I take it. But it was manageable since the effect only lasted more or less an hour.
æ: Tell us about one of your most memorable disclosure stories (friends, family, colleagues/bosses, doctors, partner or dates, etc).
Humphrey: All of my disclosure stories are memorable. I always get a smile, a hand shake, words of gratitude for sharing my story, a hug and loving words. Nevertheless, I would say that coming out to my family was the most memorable.
After disclosing to my family, everything changed for the better. I felt the bond of love and caring was strengthened. I started saying “I love you” to my parents and siblings, which I felt uncomfortable doing before I came out. Everything seemed beautiful and I found a purpose for my existence.
æ: How has living with HIV affected your current work?
Humphrey: Generally, living with HIV did not have a big impact on my work. I never had issues with my status and neither my co-workers and bosses. As a matter of fact, while I was still working as a General Manager in an art gallery, my female boss thanked me for coming out to them because they realised the importance of having a health insurance for their employees. She said that it doesn’t matter that I am HIV-positive as long as I do my job efficiently and effectively. They were all very supportive.
æ: Have you ever experienced discrimination on the basis of your HIV status from government agencies (eg. police, health workers, schools, employment officials, immigration agencies) or other areas (employers, businesses, clubs, etc). If so, please tell us what happened.
Humphrey: I never really got discriminated, although people usually get a surprise everytime I disclose to them. Usually the surprised reaction they have is due to their lack of knowledge about HIV.
There was one time when I was renewing my driver’s licence and I tested positive on the drug test. The nurse said I had to come back after a week since they need to have my urine sample confirmed with the Department of Health. I told them there is no need for that and I justified that the result is false positive due to the antiretroviral drugs I am taking. I showed them my meds. They don’t know what ART is and did not believe me at first. I had to conduct an ART 101 in the testing centre with my mom, medical technician, nurse and doctor as my audience. After an hour I got my licence.
People discriminate because of their lack of knowledge about HIV. It’s human nature to be afraid of what we don’t know. That is why HIV educational advocacies are very important.
æ: Can you share one humorous or odd thing about your life with HIV?
Humphrey: When I talk to people about my story as a person living with HIV, they always ask me how my sex life is. I find it funny how people always equate HIV with sex. What they don’t realise is that there is more to life than just sex. Sex is just a dot on a paper.
æ: What needs to happen in order for people living with HIV to feel more comfortable about telling people about their status?
Humphrey: For a PLHA (Person Living with HIV/AIDS) to feel comfortable about telling people about their status, there should be trust, respect and understanding. But amongst the three, “trust” is the most essential.
æ: Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV is often quite challenging for everyone. What is one simple thing that people could do to encourage more acceptance in the community?
Humphrey: People need be educated about HIV. What it is and what it is not. From my personal experiences, people are more accepting when they HIV literate. I can’t remember how many times I’ve disclosed my status and I’ve never been seriously discriminated. I’ve disclosed to my family, my friends, to a plenary of students and professionals. I’ve disclosed to strangers and not one treated me indifferently. But I make sure that before or after disclosure, I educate them about my status, my infection, about positive prevention and everything I can share about HIV.
æ: What is one thing that you want to do in the future to help the LGBT or PLHIV community?
Humphrey: There are lots of things I want to do to help the LGBT and the PLHIV community. But the top three on my list are: 1) come out to put a face on HIV, 2) share my story and 3) advocate to help educate people. All of these goals aim to eliminate stigma and discrimination, help stop infection and help LGBT and PLHIV live more productive and healthier lives.
æ: How do you feel about your future?
Humphrey: Sometimes I worry what the future holds for me. But I am optimistic that everything will be alright. I am currently doing HIV/ AIDS advocacy work and it gives me a certain kind of fulfilment knowing that there are good people working with me to ensure PLHIV receive treatment care and support, LGBT community are given education to help protect them from infection and working to reduce stigma and discrimination. However, the current HIV/ AIDS situation in the Philippines is making it more challenging living with the infection. The fear of losing ART is apparent. The government needs to be more supportive and give extra attention to the HIV prevention, treatment care and support program in the country. This is why we in the advocacy work double time to ensure that the LGBT and PLHIV community is protected and supported accordingly.
If you are HIV-positive and living in Asia, and want to share your story, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look out for PositiveVoices.Net, a soon-to-be-launched social networking site for HIV-positive gay men and transgender people living in Asia built around their shared experience of living with HIV.