Spotlight on Women's Health
An Interview About Living With AIDS: Hydeia Broadbent
February 29, 2016
Hydeia Broadbent was born with HIV, but she wasn't diagnosed until she was 3. At the time, her prognosis was grim, since she had already developed AIDS. Her doctors didn't think she would live to the age of 6. Now 31, Hydeia has become a prominent HIV and AIDS activist, devoting her life to raising awareness and spreading prevention messages.
She wants to debunk the "it won't happen to me" idea surrounding HIV and AIDS. She reminds us that anyone can get HIV, but making smart decisions about sex and relationships are key to preventing it. Read our interview with Hydeia about living with AIDS, growing up in front of the camera, and reducing the stigma.
Hydeia Broadbent made her debut as an HIV and AIDS activist and public speaker at age 6. By the time she was 12, Hydeia had appeared on many national television programs, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, 20/20, and Good Morning America. She has also been featured in the New York Times, People, and Essence. Hydeia has been one of the few young activists to speak out about HIV and AIDS on an international level. You can connect with her at www.hydeiabroadbent.com.
Q: You've been an HIV and AIDS speaker and activist since you were 6. What's it been like sharing your story with the world for most of your life?
A: I have to say it's a blessing to be able to turn something negative into something positive. Helping others remain HIV-negative or inspiring others living with HIV or AIDS to see the beauty in each day and not give up has given me a sense of purpose. It's given me a mission for my life.
Q: Your story isn't a typical one. How has HIV and AIDS been part of your personal identity — or not?
A: Having AIDS is a big part of my identity, because I am a full-time activist. I do a lot of interviews on television, on radio, and in magazines, so my status has become somewhat of my identifier with the public. But those who know me personally know I am so much more than my status.
Q: Has your status affected your relationships and your thoughts about the future?
A: At different ages in my life, I had different thoughts and difficulties when it came to my future and dating. When I was younger, the only thing we saw around AIDS was death, so that made dating kind of hard. Now there are many positive images of people who are HIV-positive in long-term relationships with people who are HIV-negative. Plus, there's the reality that women are having children without passing HIV to their children. These changes make my future look very bright.
Q: Is there a particular message you try to share when spreading awareness that you feel is often missing from the conversation?
A: I feel like with the improvement in medications to treat HIV and AIDS, people aren't as challenged to make responsible choices when it comes to sex. It seems like people have the attitude, "I'll just take a pill and everything will be okay." Yes, medications are better and people with HIV and AIDS are living longer, but we want people to know the goal is to prevent HIV and AIDS and not just to treat it.
Taking medication every day can be annoying, especially if you deal with side effects. Applying for different programs to help pay for the medicine you need is annoying, too. I try my best not to complain, because I remember a time when we didn't have the treatments that we have today and the future for those living with HIV and AIDS did not look so bright.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about living with HIV and AIDS?
A: One of the biggest misconceptions for me is that I can't get married or have children. Society has not caught up with the medical advancements for those living with HIV and AIDS. We can get married, have sex, and not pass HIV to others.
Q: What do you want women and girls to know about preventing HIV?
A: One of the most important tools you have in preventing HIV is self-worth. When you value yourself, you will ask the important questions before having sex or entering into a relationship without fully knowing the other person and their status.
Q: Why is it important for everyone to know their status?
A: Knowing your status is not only a representation of self-love, but it also says a lot about the person you choose to be. Not knowing your HIV status and having unsafe sexual relationships means you could possibly be infecting others. Early diagnosis can be the difference between life and death. Too many people become aware of their HIV status when it is too late for lifesaving medications to be effective. Knowing your HIV status is truly powerful, because if you're HIV-negative, you know the steps to take to remain HIV-negative. If you find out you are HIV-positive, you can start lifesaving medications.
Q: What's your advice for women and girls who have recently been diagnosed with HIV?
A: Life goes on. Yes, it may be a little more difficult. Some days are bad. It could be a headache that doesn't go away or exhaustion because you were unable to sleep because of a medication side effect. Sometimes you might have an upset stomach. It's like rolling the dice: You never know what you're going to get. But you still have a chance at life, thanks to countless studies and medications available. It's all about finding the willpower within you.
Q: What can women and girls do to help reduce the stigma around HIV and AIDS?
A: One of the things we need to do is educate ourselves and start talking about HIV and AIDS with family members and friends. We need to overcome the taboo around HIV and AIDS and stop feeling uncomfortable when it's discussed. We need to understand that preventing HIV and AIDS is about empowerment and knowledge. Then we'll be all right.
The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.