Chris Barnhill introduced himself to a room of nearly two dozen GW students on Monday by telling them that he was HIV-positive.
As part of World AIDS Day, Barnhill shared his story of being born HIV-positive after his parents used contaminated needles for heroin.
“I have been positive for 21 years,” Barnhill said. “But it was a family secret until I was 16 years old, when I found out by taking a test at a health fair.”
He said he was able to make the most of his situation by working with Metro Teen AIDS as a case manager for people ages 13 to 24 who have AIDS.
“Being HIV-positive was a calling,” Barnhill said. “Now I devote every single day of my life to spreading awareness.”
Unsatisfied with the roughly 20 students at the event, Barnhill left the room after he spoke and attempted to get more students to come to the meeting by passing out free condoms, but he was unsuccessful.
“We have lost acuity. This room is proof. This room should be filled. I have to tell you all that my feelings are hurt,” he said. “It’s like a slap in the face that there aren’t more people here. People support Beyonce, Jay-Z and Britney Spears, but they don’t support a cause like AIDS.”
The event was coordinated by the World AIDS Day Coalition, the Student Global AIDS Campaign and the Caribbean Student Association.
Senior Melissa Stites, publicity coordinator of the World AIDS Day Coalition, called the event “a really emotional and moving experience.”
“It was a unique experience and different perspective that none of us in the campaign have because we are activists, but none of us have HIV,” Stites said.
The Coalition has gathered support from GW student organizations like Delta Sigma Theta sorority, GW Students for Fair Trade and Allied in Pride to create an AIDS awareness week. Other events this week include free HIV testing, a dance-off competition and a college night at Mai Thai nightclub with all proceeds going to AIDS charities.
George Kerr, an activist from D.C. Fights Back, a group that advocates on behalf of District residents with AIDS, also spoke to students about the stigma of living with AIDS.
“Two years ago, I went to the dentist and they wouldn’t pull my teeth because they found out that I have AIDS,” said Kerr, who was diagnosed in 2004. “Another time at the drugstore, they saw my prescription and took my money with the edges of their fingertips. It was wrong.”
He added, “Take away the female, male, black or white separation and put a human face on this disease. That is what I am doing by spreading the word.”
Barnhill agreed, “It’s not a black thing, white thing or Hispanic thing. It’s an all-around issue.”
Junior Elizabeth Orlan, action coordinator for SGAC, said public discussions with people living with AIDS makes an impact on her organization’s work.
Orlan said, “Hearing stories like Chris’ and George’s about the stigma they face, the housing issues of their peers, waiting in hospitals for proper treatment, among other obstacles, really shows how much reform we need here in the United States and the District of Columbia.”