As we approach the holiday season, many of us will celebrate with friends and family, and some of us will remember the loved ones that are no longer here. Christopher Peguero, local activist, still honors his partner who he lost to AIDS in 2004.
Their story began in 1999, shortly after Christopher moved to Seattle. He was quickly thrust into the local music scene because his roommate was part of a music-collective. One evening, Christopher was invited to a party and he started talking to Kelvin, one of the DJs. Christopher felt the sparks fly when Kelvin looked at him that night.
“I knew something was going on there, then he came over to me, and we went home together and got to know each other,” Christopher remembers.
At the time, Christopher was still figuring out his sexuality and Kelvin was his first crush – so he slowly started to come out to himself. He grew up in Wisconsin in a family that blended a very traditional-Midwestern background with Latino cultural influences.
“I knew in my heart that I was gay, but it was hard to accept,” Christopher explains. Kelvin was ultimately the one who supported Christopher in coming out. “I was deeply in the closet and ashamed of my sexuality and who I was, and Kelvin knew that and would grab my hands or butt in public.”
Kelvin always assured Christopher that if anyone ever said anything negative about them and their relationship, then they would push against it together. Kelvin’s influence really opened the door for Christopher to accept who he was.
Soon after Christopher and Kelvin initially connected at the party, their relationship turned intimate. Christopher was giving Kelvin a backrub when he noticed Kelvin’s lymph nodes were severely swollen. Since local organizations like Gay City were conducting HIV education outreach in the community, Christopher had learned that swollen lymph nodes were a sign that someone might have HIV and should get tested. Christopher brought it to Kelvin’s attention, but he didn’t answer, so Christopher ignored it too.
They continued to talk about HIV, but conversations were hindered by the era’s rampant misinformation and pseudo-science about HIV. The extreme version of this ideology came from Christine Maggiore’s What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong? Her book denies science and argues that HIV does not cause AIDS and that antiretroviral drugs do not treat HIV. Although it seems hard to believe now, some people did believe Maggiore at the time, including Kelvin.
“So there I was with my first boyfriend after first coming out. I was six years younger than him, and he went on to tell me that HIV doesn’t exist,” Christopher says. Although Christopher has a science background, he was experiencing what it feels like to be in love for the first time, so he got swept up in his feelings, and went along with Kelvin’s belief without fully accepting it.
Over the next two years, Christopher and Kelvin’s relationship had deepened, and they were very committed to one another. For the most part, Kelvin’s health seemed to be stable, until one day when he got a severe fever, and his HIV really started to present itself. Although Kelvin was immensely sick, he still protested against getting tested or treated for HIV. Eventually, Christopher put his foot down. “I told him that he needs to get tested and follow the doctor’s protocols because this couldn’t go on any longer, and if he decided not to, I said that I couldn’t stay and couldn’t watch him go down this path.”
Kelvin got tested in 2003. He had the highest viral load that the doctors had seen since HIV tests had begun to be administered. For about a year, Christopher watched Kelvin’s health improve with the help of antiretroviral medication. Then came another, and final, decline. Kelvin had multifocal leukoencephalopathy – an accelerated version of Alzheimer’s that was common in people with late stage AIDS.
Knowing that Kelvin only had a week or two left, Christopher used his connections and met with Lifelong.
“Lifelong really supported us with prepared meals from Chicken Soup Brigade, and also helped us get social services, like bringing people in to watch Kelvin during the day when I was at work,” Christopher explains. Bailey-Boushay also stepped in to give Christopher the information he needed to support Kelvin in his last days. On Kelvin’s last night, Christopher held him and told him stories – making Kelvin as comfortable and happy as possible.
Throughout the 5 years of their relationship, Christopher miraculously remained HIV negative. He now carries on Kelvin’s legacy through fighting against stigmatization and standing up for justice. Christopher’s work is centered in Seattle’s race and social justice initiative, and he also started the city’s LGBTQ affinity group.
Lifelong is passionate about sharing community members’ stories – whether it’s your story, or a story about a loved one who is no longer here. Please let us know if you have a story that you want to share with your Lifelong community!