NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As we countdown to AIDS Walk this weekend, CBS2 is sharing the stories of two New Yorkers who have been living with HIV for decades. One is a loving mother and the other a Broadway star.
As CBS2’s Cindy Hsu reported Wednesday, they’re both on a mission to educate the public and foster more understanding when it comes to HIV.
Lillibeth Gonzalez is 66 years old and proud of it. She has come a long way from her days as a young model and learning she had contracted HIV from her husband more than 30 years ago.
“When I was diagnosed, I was lost. I was devastated. I felt I was going to die,” Gonzalez said.
CONTINUING COVERAGE: AIDS Walk New York
It was 1990 and Gonzalez was taking about 20 pills a day to fight the virus while raising a young son. She turned to Gay Men’s Health Crisis for help. It was the world’s first HIV/AIDS service organization and it helps anyone living with or affected by the virus. She became an intern, a volunteer, and now works for GMHC.
“They embraced me. Oh my God, they love me. They call me ‘Mother.’ Yeah, I’m their mother, you know,” Gonzalez said.
Her son is now 37 years old and her biggest supporter as she continues to advocate for herself and others living with HIV.
“This is a safe place for the LGBTQ community, for the brown and Black communities, for women, for family members. This is my home and my chosen family,” Gonzalez said.
Also a member of the GMHC family is Broadway star Javier Muńoz, who has played “Hamilton” and was diagnosed with HIV in 2002. He became an activist after learning that many of his friends, and people in the industry, were not informed about the virus and all the resources available, even now.
“It is decades’ long that the wall of stigma surrounding HIV is strong still, and there’s no reason for it. It absolutely needs to be torn down and the way we do that is dialogue,” Muńoz said.
He said the advances in treatment have been incredible.
“You know, you wake up in the morning, you have your breakfast, you take your multi-vitamin with your medicine and you’re done. That’s it, right, and that’s amazing,” Muńoz said.
But he said it takes all of us, not just people living with HIV, to stay informed and support the fight against the virus.
“All the many parts of our lives that get affected by HIV can be treated with dignity and gentleness and kindness and understanding if everyone has the information,” Muńoz said.
So while this years walk is virtual, it’s in honor of the many living with HIV. Those we’ve lost and a celebration of how far we’ve come.