A Note from Kerry, in New Orleans…

“As a kid I was raped and beaten by my father and traded for drugs by my mother. I was always told that I was too feminine, or that I was just a little faggot, by everyone around me. I grew up going from poor to comfortable, back and forth, in and out of foster care depending on how my mothers addiction was playing out at the time.

At 14, I decided that enough was enough, and that if anyone was going to make money off of me, it was going to be me. Having begun in my own addiction at 12, I ran away from home and fell into a life of drugs, alcohol, prostitution and violence. I spent the next 16 years living in my addiction, having the femininity beaten out of me. I always knew who I was, so I came out of the closet when I was 12, but I had to fight to be accepted. At 22 I stopped selling myself; I just couldn’t do it anymore. at 24 I was asked to raise a child. My lesbian, crack addict/alcoholic sister was unable to raise her own child, so my drug addict mother thought that I would be a good substitution.

I spent the next 4 years isolated from everyone while I became a father. This is when my fight against my addiction began. I had completely disconnected from the gay community and forgotten who I was. I was miserable, and even though I had the child I now consider my daughter, I was alone. I met a man when I was 28, who was HIV positive, and I immediately gravitated to his own sense of isolation. We began dating, and I started drinking again, within two days of meeting each other. Within that first month, and while I was deep in my addiction again, I made the decision to have unprotected sex with him and to intentionally infect myself with HIV. In my alcoholic mind I was convinced that this would mean that he and I would stay together forever; I wouldn’t have to be alone anymore.

The next year my mother was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. My daughter and I moved in with her, so that I could be her caretaker, and my partner would stay with us once in a while. Within a year my mother died, still deep in her own addiction and, after 29 years of living hell, I had a breakdown. I lost custody of my daughter, my partner left me and I came home to New Orleans.

It took two weeks for me to end up back in jail; this was the beginning of a new life for me. I was accidentally sent to the GED dorm, where I started sitting in on classes, and after a couple weeks they realized their mistake and allowed me to enroll in the course. Two months later I was released, after entering the pre-trial diversion program, and I was back on the street. With nowhere to go, and two diseases that were killing me, I was found by an old friend and directed to Belle Reve, a transitional housing facility for HIV positive individuals, where I immediately re-enrolled in the GED program that I had begun in jail, and completed the course and received my GED on December 22 of 2010.

Finally being able to see that I needed a change, I put myself in rehab in March of 2011. While in rehab I was reintroduced to the idea that I could be comfortable being a gay man, outside of the bedroom. I was also introduced to advocacy work. I began learning about HIV education, prevention, and treatment and became the first coordinator for the Acadiana Gay Mens Wellness Center. Still fighting my addiction, I was asked to step down after a relapse. I continued to seek treatment for my addiction and work on having relationships with gay men, that weren’t based on sex.

I began volunteering with the Louisiana Office of Public Health and speaking about HIV and addiction, and the connection between the two, all around the state. throughout this process I would continue to struggle with my addiction but I did not give up. In late 2012, after working on several projects, with several different organizations, I founded the New Orleans AIDS Action Project and began on my mission of HIV education, prevention, and treatment in the substance abuse community.

I am now comfortable being an openly gay, HIV positive, recovering alcoholic. No amount of adversity should ever make us want to run and hide, or be afraid of who we are. I have a wonderful, gay, sponsor who I have never slept with. I have incredible relationships building every day with other gay men, who I have never slept with. I have come to a place in my life, and my recovery, where being gay is just a matter of fact; it does not mean that I have to sleep with every guy that I meet, I am rebuilding a connection with my daughter, my family and, most importantly, myself; one that does not require me to be anything but who I am.

I am a very proud Gay man and everything else that has happened, has only made me that much stronger. Today, I still struggle with my addiction, but it has gotten easier. Every time that our organization gets to help someone struggling with their own identity, with HIV or with their addiction I am reminded of what a struggle life can be sometimes, and how every now and then we just need a helping hand; one that won’t judge us and will love us as we are and help us to help ourselves. I love the work that I get to do today as a member of the Community Advisory Board for the Gay Men’s Wellness Center here in New Orleans. I love the work that the New Orleans AIDS Action Project gets to do in the community; especially since it gives me a chance to talk to the people that I encounter as someone who has been exactly where they are now. We connect because we are the same. Being a strong gay man at 32 is awesome; being able to get stronger with the help of the community is priceless.”

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