Florida Department of Health Tours State with AIDS Portrait Exhibit
A gay man living on the streets, a pregnant newlywed, a full-time student, a former drug addict - all from different backgrounds, but all connected by AIDS.
More than a dozen people with HIV/AIDS are a part of "Faces of HIV," a traveling exhibit by the Florida Department of Health to educate the public and break down myths surrounding the disease.
"People can see these faces and say wow, that looks like my brother or my uncle or my teacher or my child or my cousin and realize that people living with HIV are no different from people living with any other disease or anybody else that you might have in your life," said Marlene LaLota, the HIV Prevention Program administrator for the state’s Bureau of HIV/AIDS.
For years, LaLota and others were discussing how to combat the problem of not getting tested, or those who tested positive not getting treatment and staying on their medication. A common theme was the stigma of the disease.
More than a dozen HIV positive Floridians volunteered to tell their story, including a portrait, a video interview, and a diary to share with the public. The participants vary in race, gender, age, sexual orientation and location.
"Faces of HIV" officially unveiled at the beginning of 2012 in Tallahassee, and the exhibit has since traveled across the state, including South Florida.
"We want to make sure that we have as much diversity as possible," LaLota said. "We don’t want to perpetuate the myth that HIV is just a city disease or just a gay disease or a young person or drug user."
Anthony Johnson, 43, is one of the volunteers participating in the exhibit. A community advocate and psychology student in South Florida, he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1995 at the request of an old boyfriend.