Coming out in the open as a person living with HIV (PLHIV) may be problematic for some; but for Cagayan de Oro City-based Stephen Christian Quilacio, doing so gave him “peace and a sense of empowerment,” he said. “Sharing my story… brings smile to my face. Every telling of my story greatly affects me, as I hope it also affects others.”
Stephen found out he’s HIV-positive in 2012. “I decided to get tested after I had several medical issues,” he said. First, of course, he had to confront “many years of self denial of me possibly having HIV.” And when he finally got the test, he was already on the third stage of HIV infection – i.e. he had progressed to AIDS, with his CD4 count falling below 200 cells per cubic millimeter of blood (200 cells/mm3), and having multiple opportunistic infections (i.e. STIs, pneumonia and then TB).
Stephen knew he had unsafe sexual practices in the past, but he admitted still asking, ‘Why do I have this?’ But beyond looking back, “l also thought: ‘What will I do now?’ and ‘What’s next?’.”
Particularly because of his health condition at the time he was diagnosed to have HIV, Stephen immediately started taking antiretroviral treatment. “It helps me live normally,” he said, “feeling healthy and better each day.”
And with adherence, “I want to dedicate my ‘second life’ in becoming a better me.”
This is why, for Stephen, coming out as a PLHIV has merits.
“Hopefully, by giving HIV a human face, people will hear firsthand about situations like mine. Ad hopefully, this will help deal with stigma and discrimination,” he said. “Dealing with stigma and discrimination is a long process involving very hard work. And while I understand that we can’t educate everyone in just one session, we need to continuously push the educating for people to see the real situation. Being out – I hope – helps make this happen.”
Stephen is, in a way, also lucky because his family is very supportive of him, even if “it was a long journey for us,” he said. “Coming out wasn’t easy, obviously, but doing so made me a better person.”
There were a few friends who “shied away,” Stephen admitted. “But this showed to me who I can trust. I’d like to think that with the people left in my life now, I only have the best, and those who matter.”
Aiming to be of help to other PLHIVs particularly in Northern Mindanao, Stephen eventually founded the Northern Mindanao AIDS Advocates (NorMAA), an organization that now chairs to help mainstream the issues of many people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Mindanao.
“As an HIV-positive person, I hope for people – whether one has HIV or not – to learn to love oneself first. Dedicate a beautiful life and healthy lifestyle anchored with God’s guidance that will lead you to a brighter way. Always show love, compassion and guidance to everyone,” Stephen ended.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON NorMAA, VISIT http://outragemag.com/norma-safe-space-plhivs-northern-mindanao/.