Activist With HIV Fights To End Stigma

Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

Reed Vreeland was born with HIV, which means he has struggled for most of his 27 years deciding how and when to inform people about his illness. His mom was infected, but his dad was not.

Dozens of states criminalize HIV exposure, or perceived exposure, through sex, shared needles or, in some states, exposure to “bodily fluids” that can include saliva. Reed works for an organization, the Sero Project, that fights these state HIV criminalization laws.

Vreeland has very clear memories about the day his dad told him about his HIV. “I immediately just started crying, because we’d read in our first grade class a book about HIV and AIDS,” he tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “I remember the first thing I thought of was ‘Oh, I’m like the kids in the book.’ … And the book was about AIDS in Africa and about kids in Africa dying of AIDS.”

His own mother died of AIDS when he was 10, and “the pain of losing her was even more intense,” Vreeland says, “because I knew I had what she had.” She had many complications in her last few years, and grew extremely weak. “I could beat her in an arm wrestle as a 10-year-old and she was just so fragile. It’s just so hard to see a parent in that state and then know you could be next.”

 

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