Giannina L. Garces Ambrossi
Monday, April 30, 2007
William Brawner is young, charming, outspoken, and aggressive in his message: he has AIDS, but you would never know just by looking at him. At Howard University he was a member of the student council; He was, by his own account, an enthusiastic Casanova; and he now is a fiery speaker and activist. He is also one of the faces in the national public awareness campaign “Does HIV Look Like Me?” which features a series of young adults posing in glamour shots–promos that look more like makeup or fashion campaigns than a public service announcement–all to send the message that you can’t judge HIV status by its Gucci sunglasses. Campus Progress recently spoke with Brawner about living with HIV, his activism on the issue, and the future of being HIV positive in America.
Campus Progress: You were diagnosed with AIDS at the same time you were found to be HIV positive, after receiving a contaminated blood transfusion when you were 18 months old. Having been HIV positive for about 25 years, have you seen any changes over time in the way our culture perceives HIV and AIDS?
: There really hasn’t been a change. There is still the same stigma, disgust, ignorance. Maybe it’s not as overt now as it once was, because now, in general, people have more education about the whole issue. Actually, people are pretty well educated–that is, until it comes to their front door. When it comes to their dinner table, when it comes to their home, there is a revival of all those old fears and judgments.
You call yourself “the new face of AIDS.” Why is that? Because you are a young African American?
People don’t expect someone like me, who looks as good as me, who looks as healthy as me, who can press 240 pounds, they don’t expect me to be someone who can have HIV/AIDS. Because of how I look, people think it’s impossible. In fact, people don’t believe me sometimes! Because they don’t want to believe. That would make it too personal. That would make it too real, too close to home. If someone like me can have HIV, it means that their boyfriend, their lover, their crush could have it too, and maybe they wouldn’t know.
When you go to high school and college campuses, what reaction do you get?
Listen, when I go into an auditorium full of high school kids, you know, they’re rowdy, they’re loud. The girls are thinking, man, he’s cute. He looks good. Then I say it–I have AIDS. I am HIV positive. Then you could hear a pin drop. A pin drop in an auditorium full of teenagers! That’s what I live for. I bring it right to their face, and I have their undivided attention. That happens all the time. I’ve seen females come up afterwards and tell me, “Oh, you so cute, you could have had the digits and the drawers, and I never would have known.” That makes it real.