"My name is Justin Anantawan and I am an HIV activist, social worker, teacher, musician and photographer (instagram: @justin_anantawan) of Chinese and Thai Descent. I am based in Toronto, but I frequently travel to Kenya and Jamaica for outreach work in the LGBTQ community and PLHA community. I was most recently in Kenya from July to September distributing condoms and lube to men who have sex with men and providing counselling and group support for men living with HIV.
When I first got diagnosed with HIV, I was devastated and thought my life was over. I could only focus on the negatives, believing that I would not be able to travel the world like I had done before, that I would not be able to find love, that I would have horrible side effects from antiretroviral drugs and that God had abandoned me. However, as the years have gone by, these thoughts have all turned out to be false.
In fact, having HIV has enriched my life in ways I would have never predicted. Having to deal with HIV stigma has taught me to self advocate and love myself more so than I did before my diagnosis. As well, I find that because of my HIV status, I have been able to meet men who are accepting of me and with whom I have been able to forge deeper relationships and friendships.
Throughout my journey I have had help, especially from the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), where I received counselling for a couple years, and Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS), where I did my social work internship. The staff and volunteers at ACAS taught me how to be an HIV activist and educator in the community and gave me a place of family and belonging. I especially want to thank Christian Hui who has been my mentor in the field.
World AIDS Day to me is a day to remember those who have died of AIDS and folks who cope with living with HIV/AIDS. However, I also see it as a day to celebrate the resilience of the PLHA community and their success in challenging discrimination and HIV stigma, living healthy lives and supporting one another.
I hope that the Canadian government will make a greater effort to educate society more about Undetectable=Untransmissible, make HIV drugs free and change laws to make people living with HIV/AIDS less vulnerable to criminalization.
"I want people to know that we as people living with HIV do not need your pity. We need your support and allyship in learning more and educating others about HIV/AIDS so that the weight of spreading awareness about HIV does not fall solely on our backs."