October is LGBT History Month, a time to remember how far the LGBT community has come. To commemorate our greater Seattle LGBTQ community, we are sharing a past client’s story. David Wood, who was born in Alabama but later moved to Seattle, used our Chicken Soup Brigade program during the AIDS epidemic. David was diagnosed with HIV in October of 1988 – 30 years ago this month.
David initially got tested in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood, when his boyfriend at the time had been diagnosed with HIV. “When I found out, I wasn’t scared, but the woman who tested me was in tears as she gave me the news,” David remembers. At the time, he was working at a local hospital as an orderly, and the hospital wanted him to keep quiet about his status because the majority of people were afraid of being around anyone with HIV – and David saw this first-hand. As an orderly, he would wheel patients back to their rooms after surgery, and no one wanted to touch the men because they were scared of “catching AIDS.” So, David wheeled back more than 200 AIDS patients, and for many, it was to their death beds. “It was very traumatic, but we didn’t have time to grieve that stuff because it hit hard and it hit fast,” David explains. He, himself, cycled through 28 different jobs because he became so sick, but even when he was physically at his worst, he describes HIV-stigma as the real disease.
In addition to what David experienced at the hospital, his family served him off paper plates and he was told to not touch the children – but this wasn’t the first time he experienced this level of stigma. When David was younger, he was shamed for being gay. Growing up, he was told that he was worthless and wouldn’t amount to anything, and eventually his mother took him to conversion therapy, where he was physically and emotionally abused for being gay. After all of this trauma as a kid, paired with the trauma during the AIDS epidemic, David worked hard on his mental health. “It really comes down to self-esteem – we need to love ourselves, but getting to the other side of the rainbow takes a lot of courage,” David notes. So he made a commitment to working on his self-esteem, surrounded himself with friends, and found love. Now, 30 years after being diagnosed with HIV, he is happily married to his husband, who he also met the same year of his diagnosis. David recalls, “We met at the hospital where they had these double doors on each side, and we walked through them at the same time, and we just knew ‘you’re it!’” Although the worst is behind him, David still experiences HIV stigma and ignorance today. In recent years, he has had a person ask him if they can contract HIV by just being in the same house as someone who is HIV-positive, and he has also shocked people when having to explain that HIV is still a current issue.
At the end of the day, David is still thankful for the services he used at Lifelong because his experience was more than just the services. “Lifelong is a net that catches you and gives you that needed connection, but it is also a place I could go to if I just needed to talk,” David remembers.
Lifelong is always here to stand up against discrimination and marginalization. That is something that will not change in history. LGBT History Month is about coming together as a community and remembering and sharing stories of the past to help build a better future.
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