I was born in Burbank, California to preacher parents. When I was four, my parents split up. My mom packed up a U-Haul and drove my sister and me out to live in Phoenix.
I always knew about my sexuality but living out west in the late 80s and early 90s, there wasn’t much of a gay community to speak of. Being raised in the church made it even worse. At 18, I started on a very long journey of drug and alcohol use. I was always a shy person but when I was intoxicated, I seemed to care less about what other people thought.
Eventually, I moved out to Philadelphia and spent the next years of my life in and out of incarceration. While locked up in 2002, I found out that I was HIV positive. It felt like something had invaded me - like an alien. The day after I learned about my status, John Bell came into see me. He told me about FIGHT and as soon as I was released, he helped me enroll in the TEACH Outside Program.
Over the last 14 years, FIGHT has been there for me and accepted me no matter where I was on life’s journey. FIGHT was then and is now, such a beautifully diverse place. That’s what I love about it. Because FIGHT embraced me, I was given the chance to grow within myself. Now, I get to work as a Peer Educator. It is amazing to think that someone who was once so shy, can now speak in front of large groups without fear. I like to use my own story as a teaching tool when I present in the community. My story makes me stronger and I know that by sharing it, I can help empower others. One of my favorite things is presenting to a group of people who aren’t interested in listening because they don’t know anyone who is HIV positive. When I tell them that I am positive, it helps them to learn that you can’t judge what’s going on inside of someone just by looking at them.
While I was a TEACH student, I came to realize that being HIV positive was not a curse. It gave me the reality check that I needed and caused me to reevaluate the way I was living my life. My future is undecided but I know that I want to stay in this field and eventually go to school for a degree in social services. For now, I am prioritizing my job as a peer educator and putting the pieces of my life back together. I am the type of person that focuses on moving forward rather than dwelling on the negatives; dwelling only makes things worse. Today, I am rolling with the punches and for the first time in my life, I am being patient with myself.
- Jonathan Carton