An estimated 40 students at JMU are living with HIV, said junior Pablo Moulden — and he’s one of them.
The international affairs major discovered he was HIV-positive when he was a high school senior.
“It was discomforting that I’d only had two partners in my life, and I was already HIV-positive,” Moulden said.
Moulden was one of three panelists for the event “Positively Speaking: My Life with HIV,” presented in Taylor Down Under Monday night by the Madison HIV/AIDS Alliance and Alpha Phi Alpha.
Moulden came out as gay his sophomore year of high school, when he also had his first boyfriend. They had unprotected sex because Moulden thought they were both virgins.
“I thought there was nothing wrong with two consenting virgins having unprotected sex,” Moulden said, “because there is no way we could have an STD.”
Monday night was the first time Moulden came out publicly about his status.
“It was like I was in a mud cast and washed it all off in the shower,” Moulden said after the program. “It’s a huge weight off my shoulders. It was eating me away.”
Moulden found out he was HIV-positive when he went to a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer event in Northern Virginia in January 2009, where they tested for HIV with cheek swabs.
“The man working the event said that it was possible it was a false positive,” Moulden said.
But Moulden was officially diagnosed with HIV in February of that year.
Moulden said Pedro Zamora, a participant in MTV’s show “The Real World,” inspired him to speak to others about HIV/AIDS. Zamora used his fame to raise awareness for his condition by appearing on the show and speaking publicly about his condition.
“That was the first time I had the idea that I could put a positive spin on this blessing in disguise,” Moulden said. “I could make something positive out of my mistake.”
Dawn Cook and Ben Banks, a JMU graduate, two visiting speakers, also shared how HIV has affected their lives.
Cook was infected by a partner she’d been in a monogamous relationship with for seven years.
“All my life, I had never taken an HIV test because I don’t sleep around,” Cook said.
Cook discovered she had HIV when a chronic illness prompted her to go to the hospital, where she found out she had PCP pneumonia, a common symptom of AIDS.
Cook said that protecting oneself first is important in a relationship.
“The person you are choosing to be with now might not care how you’re doing 10 or 15 years down the road,” Cook said.
Banks was infected with HIV as a child through a blood transfusion. He was diagnosed with cancer at age 2, and blood transfusions were necessary to save his life.
He received the transfusions before donated blood started being tested for the disease in 1985.
Banks almost didn’t go to high school because of his HIV- positive diagnosis.
“We had to meet with the superintendent just so I could get permission to go to school,” Banks said.
Some teachers were informed of his status, but Banks never told his friends in high school that he had HIV. He has since made his status public.
“It’s a virus that’s smart, it’s a virus that doesn’t discriminate,” Banks said. “All it wants is a body to live in.”
Sarah Desper, a junior social work major, said the speakers had a very strong message.
“I didn’t know how prevalent [HIV] is,” Desper said. “I didn’t think people at JMU were infected.”
Moulden said that’s the best reason to protect yourself.
“You wouldn’t be able to tell that I’m HIV-positive by looking at me,” Moulden said. “The same way you wouldn’t be able to tell if you met someone at a party.”
Moulden said he doesn’t want to use his status to attract attention, but he does want JMU students to know it’s a real issue.
“I want you guys to know me as the junior JMU student who is positive on your campus,” Moulden said. “And the next time you have the opportunity to have sex, you either abstain or use protection.”
Madison HIV/AIDS Awareness Week, presented by the Madison HIV/AIDS Alliance, is next week. There will be free HIV testing in Transitions from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday .
Contact Rebecca Crossan at email@example.com.