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Positive Voices

EPISODE #215 - HIV & White MSM


“This Shouldn’t Happen Now:” On Privilege and Advocacy in the HIV Space

March 18, 2024. 39:23

In this week’s episode of Positive Voices, Tei and Malachi chat with Murray Penner, a DC-based advocate with a deep personal interest in ensuring that people with HIV have access to the care and support needed. Throughout this episode, Murray discusses his own HIV diagnosis and why he advocates so passionately for U=U. Come for the great chemistry, and stay for a deep conversation on how privilege and perception can play a significant role in who gets help in healthcare spaces.

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This program contains language and subject matter that some audiences may find triggering or sensitive. Our purpose is to encourage engagement in care and treatment; however, please consider your well-being before continuing.


Murray Penner: If you're living with HIV and you have an undetectable viral load, you don't transmit to your sexual partners, and that's made it so much easier to share my status with people.
Tei Pearson-Hall: What's up folks? Welcome to another great episode of Positive Voices. I'm one of your hosts today, Tei Pearson-Hall.
Malachi Stewart: I'm Malachi Stewart.
Tei Pearson-Hall: And listen, today we have an amazing guest with us today because we like to talk to different demographics, we like to cover just different journeys. And our guest today is going to give us just that. His own personal journey as it relates to his life. And we're going to be nosy. We're going to figure out, we're going to ask some questions, and we're going to walk this path with them. So help us welcome our guest today. Hey Murray. Hey.
Malachi Stewart: Hey. Let the people know who you are.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Who are you?
Murray Penner: It's great to be here.
Malachi Stewart: It's great to have you.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Thanks for coming.
Murray Penner: Well, my name's Murray Penner and I don't ever know how to start saying who I am.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I know that's a hard question.
Murray Penner: Because I don't want to start with my HIV status because that feels like it's then HIV rules my life, which it doesn't. But I do want to start with that, actually. Just mix it up a little bit. I've been living with HIV since 1986.
Tei Pearson-Hall: '86.
Murray Penner: '86. And when I was diagnosed, my doctor told me to make a will, to talk to my family, and that I probably had six months to live.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Wow.
Murray Penner: That was 1986. You can do the math on that. Here's how I originally found out. I applied for life insurance and I had to do blood work. I got a letter in the mail that said to be opened only by addressee on the front of it. In great big red letters. And so I'm like, "What the heck is this?" I opened it up and it says, you have a life-threatening disease. You need to see your doctor immediately.
Malachi Stewart: That's not how you found out.
Tei Pearson-Hall: In the mail?
Murray Penner: In the mail.
Malachi Stewart: That's not how you found out.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Wow.
Malachi Stewart: You can't be serious.
Tei Pearson-Hall: No phone call? Come in to the office. We got to talk to you.
Murray Penner: Nothing. That's how I found out. So then I took a long time. I was with somebody at the time and I took a long time to even tell him. And once I finally told him, he's like, "We got to get you to the doctor." This was like three months later after I had actually gotten that letter.
Malachi Stewart: Did you immediately think HIV? Or was your mind just wandering?
Murray Penner: I did not think about HIV. I was living in Oklahoma. 1986. Figure that one out. The last thing in the world I was thinking about was that.
Malachi Stewart: Shout out to Oklahoma, but.
Murray Penner: Yeah, unfortunately things are a lot different today than they were then. That's not how you would find out today. Or it better not be how anybody.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I hope not.
Malachi Stewart: They better not be how you find out.
Tei Pearson-Hall: It's the bold letters on the envelope for me.
Murray Penner: Right, right, right. So anyway, fast-forward from that. One of the things that I discovered early on is you have to take charge of your own health because my doctor was telling me to get on AZT. AZT was this really toxic, very first drug that came out for HIV. And I was watching all my friends die from that. And I was like, "I'm not doing this. I'm not taking this." And my doctor was like, "You're going to die if you take it." I said, "Apparently everybody's dying when they're taking it, so I'm going to do things differently."
Tei Pearson-Hall: And run the odds.
Murray Penner: And I'm here. And I think that's one of the reasons I'm here.
Tei Pearson-Hall: And thank you for being here. Just in general. Overall, thank you for being here.
Murray Penner: I'm excited.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yeah.
Malachi Stewart: That's a really long time that you've been living with HIV. I'm sure you have a wealth of experiences. What has it been like? Because a lot of times, like you said, living with HIV, that's the description. That's the description. It's something that you can just describe. I have HIV, but it's not again, your identity. How has it been navigating love, life, the pursuit of happiness? And also navigating your own health. How has that looked over the years?
Murray Penner: It's not been easy. I still struggle with, I don't like to say disclosing because disclosing sounds like a secret. So I like to say sharing my status.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Oh, sharing.
Murray Penner: It's hard to share my status. Especially if I'm going out with someone and I'm thinking this might be something. It's still hard to do that. So navigating that has always been difficult. But I've gotten stronger about it and more confident about it. One of the reasons I've gotten more confident about it is because undetectable equals untransmittable, which is on my shirt.
Malachi Stewart: It's on your shirt.
Murray Penner: U = U. If you're living with HIV and you have an undetectable viral load, now you got to work to get there, but you don't transmit to your sexual partners. And that's made it so much easier to share my status with people.
Tei Pearson-Hall: So can I ask you a question there? So undetectable means what? For the people who may not understand what the term means.
Murray Penner: You bet.
Malachi Stewart: Great question.
Murray Penner: Yeah, great question. Well, for the purposes of being untransmittable, it's under 200 copies. Now that gets complicated in terms of labs, et cetera. But if you go to the doctor, you do your lab work, they'll do what's called a viral load test. And if you're under 200, then you cannot transmit. That's what the studies were based on. There's a whole bunch of science behind it that I don't really want to go into.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I wouldn't understand that part, but thank you.
Murray Penner: The science is real. The science is real.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Okay, so under 200 equals undetectable. Undetectable equals untransmittable.
Malachi Stewart: That's right.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Got you.
Murray Penner: But that's made it a lot easier for me to share with people and navigate my status. It hasn't always been easy because, in the early days, the medications were really hard to take. People that were around me watched me get sick from that, the medications. It's not like that today, fortunately, very much. It's really easy. It's like one pill once a day or a shot every two months. So there's really easy ways to take care of living with HIV now. But it wasn't always that easy.
Malachi Stewart: And do you feel like it makes sharing easy because you're sharing something but you're not a threat to the person? You're able to reassure them like, my HIV status is not a threat to you, in your life. Have you ever... Okay, question. So do you feel like it's easier when you're sharing with one of your in partnerships with a person's HIV positive? Or do you feel like it's the same as when you're in a serial discordant relationship? For people at home, that just means one person relationship is HIV negative one person is positive.
Murray Penner: Yeah, so that's a great question. I've had three, I guess, major relationships, if you will. And all three of those people have been HIV negative.
Malachi Stewart: Okay.
Murray Penner: So in the early days it was a lot harder. We had to be a lot more careful. We didn't have that science of U = U, so we didn't know that I couldn't transmit, even though I might've been undetectable because we didn't have the studies to prove it. So in the early days, it was a lot of condoms and just making sure we were really, really safe.
Tei Pearson-Hall: With each other?
Murray Penner: Nowadays, you can be safe and not use a condom. There's ways to have safe sex and not transmit HIV. So that's a good thing. But that navigation of the HIV positive person and the HIV negative person is, it all depends on who you're with.
Malachi Stewart: Absolutely.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yeah, that's what I was thinking.
Murray Penner: And it's about communicating really clearly with each other. So I think it's been interesting, to say the least.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I can imagine. I can just imagine, the conversation itself, because if you have a positive and a negative, and so, like you're saying, the sharing part looks a little different. So within that sharing piece, have you ever had some apprehension? And then if so, what did you do to process through that to get to sharing?
Murray Penner: Yeah, lots of apprehension. Like I said, I still have it today. If I am going on a date or something and sitting down with someone, one of the first things I try to do is get that out. And sometimes I just do it nonchalantly, just not even make it a big issue. That's been the easiest way for me to do it is just slip it in there. And they'll be like, "Wait, what?" And so then it allows us to talk about it. But there's been times when I haven't shared right away either because it's scary.
The person's going to walk away or whatever. So I remember one, not relationship, one guy I was dating and I was very apprehensive about sharing. Consequently, we didn't have sex because I didn't want to have sex without disclosing or sharing. And so we didn't have sex. And he was like, "Are you not attracted to me?"
Tei Pearson-Hall: Oh wow. Oh wow.
Murray Penner: And that gave me the opportunity to then say, "It's really not that, but I have something to tell you." And it was cool. I should have done a long time ago. But I've also had some reactions of people that have been...
Tei Pearson-Hall: Not so nice.
Murray Penner: Can't do this. And God forbid you try to disclose on the apps because the apps are like...
Malachi Stewart: I do. I disclose on the apps. It needs to be everything.
Murray Penner: I do, too. I do, too.
Malachi Stewart: I need to know before you come here because one thing that you said, and I think HIV positive, HIV negative, gay, straight, non-binary, however you define. Pansexual, wherever you fit on the spectrum, I think what humans have in common is that nobody wants to feel rejected. Especially, when you're being rejected because of something that you didn't ask for. This is not something. Who wants a chronic illness? You don't meet people and be like, "Oh, you have diabetes." You might get sick one day, can't be with you.
Tei Pearson-Hall: That's a good relation.
Malachi Stewart: We have people in our family with diabetes and they still cook unhealthy. We eat the food. We go over with them.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Me.
Malachi Stewart: Big mama done lost her leg and she is still frying chicken.
Tei Pearson-Hall: You say, "My sugar just a little high."
Malachi Stewart: We're eating it. We are not talking about that fear doesn't exist.
Tei Pearson-Hall: And she's not shunned.
Malachi Stewart: I think that's a universal feeling that people can just relate to. No one wants to be rejected. I think there are people who are not positive who don't share other things because again, the same fear of rejection. You're absolutely right. You're saying that there are still times, even currently, even in a time where people know U = U. I think not everybody, but it's way more common for people to know what that means now. But you still get people who are like, "I'm good." Is that surprising to you still? Because for me, sometimes I'm like, "Really? You still..." Because I'll let you speak on it and I'll tell you why it's surprising for me.
Murray Penner: Oh, it's really surprising for me. It's maddening, actually. One of the things that drives me the most crazy is when you're on the apps and somebody will say, "Are you clean?"
Tei Pearson-Hall: Oh, so what that means?
Murray Penner: It means are you free of HIV is generally what it means. Or STDs.
Malachi Stewart: Or sexually transmitted infection.
Tei Pearson-Hall: So not like, "Do you take baths?"
Murray Penner: That's what I always say. I'm always like, "Yeah, I take a shower this morning?"
Tei Pearson-Hall: That's what I would say too.
Murray Penner: And then I take that opportunity to educate because a lot of people don't think about what they're saying as being stigmatizing, but that's really a stigmatizing statement when you...
Tei Pearson-Hall: And ignorant.
Murray Penner: And ignorant. Yeah.
Malachi Stewart: Yeah, you disqualify. I definitely also use it as an opportunity for education. But you have now disqualified yourself.
Tei Pearson-Hall: You're just out the running.
Malachi Stewart: From bathing at this altar.
Murray Penner: Yeah. Talk about, "Thank you. I'm good. Thank you. I'm good."
Malachi Stewart: Because it's like I get that you may not know that that's a stigmatizing term. I get that you may not know that that's rude and that's a red flag that you don't know. That because who would want to, when you say that a person is clean, adversely, who is dirty? Who is not adversely? And if you don't have enough sense to put that together yourself.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yeah, I don't even know how you can say, "So you clean?" What? I feel like that's a fight.
Malachi Stewart: And be genuinely waiting for a response.
Murray Penner: It's infuriating to me.
Malachi Stewart: I said, I would tell you why it's surprising to me. Especially as a person, I'm black man who has sex with men, living in the DMV in DC, We know it's one and two. It's one and two for black men who have sex with men. So the likelihood that you are out here, first of all, you didn't ask me my status. You saw it on my profile or I brought it up because I wasn't sure if you saw this, so I made sure you saw this. So you didn't care enough to ask me, one. You weren't pressed about it. You were already most likely talking about having raw sex. Are we going to talk about the fact that the girls will be out here? It is not a condom city.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Would you say before the question? Before the question?
Malachi Stewart: You want to ask. So if you're out here having sex without a condom, I'm the one that told you, but I'm not the only one you had sex with that's HIV positive according to statistics.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Hello, what you say. The numbers don't lie.
Malachi Stewart: Let's just look at this. You are actually only making people feel othered and making people feel rejected who are being honest with you. And then the people who are dishonest with you get to bathe in the luxury of having a conversation or having the experience where they're free from having to have this awkward moment. So I just think people should probably, and I do tell people that. I'm like, just remind you of statistics because this conversation started with you being in my inbox asking me what you was asking me.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Minding your business.
Malachi Stewart: And talking about how you don't like condoms. And then I'm talking to you about HIV and you scared.
Tei Pearson-Hall: So can I ask both of you guys a question? So as we talk about just that, the apps and the disclosure, sharing, so do you think, and I don't know, I just got this feeling right when you were talking. Do you think that that's like a coverup? For people who may be positive, but it's like, let me throw it out there to see. It's a fishing. Whether it's fishing. Or is it a matter of, and this not scientific or whatever, but do you think that it's folks that are asking questions about others without a fear of disclosing themselves or feeling safe themselves? And so that's the first thing I can throw out there. Are you clean? Versus I have something I want to share.
Malachi Stewart: People usually disclose. I've always been, in any relationship, majority of relationships, not majority of sexual experiences, have been serial discordant. So it's been a person who's negative. I've always been the one to disclose status first, when it's positive. Even on an app, people will respond with, "Oh, it's cool. I'm positive." So I'm like, "Oh, you want to go tell me?" Or people will, because sometimes, honestly, because I haven't won the app and I've just for so many years been very vocal, it's kind of like, "Well, if you knew who I was, it's not, know I was positive. Do you read well? Do you listen good? Because it's a platform, a brand. So when it's time, I had retroactive conversations and they're like, "Oh yeah, no, I knew. It was fine." I'm like, "Oh." I've had partners tell me maybe three months later.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Oh wow, okay.
Malachi Stewart: At first they just hear me and they just quiet and then later on. And how do you feel about that, actually?
Murray Penner: Yeah, no, I think I would agree with you. It was funny. I was dating this guy and I was really into him. He was the one not wanting to have sex, et cetera. And I'm like, "What is going on here? What's the deal? Because he seems to like me." And then finally he sat me down and he's like, "I have something to tell you. I know this is not going to work. This relationship is not going to work." I'm like, "Why?" He goes, "Well, I'm HIV positive." And I was like, "I'm HIV positive." It's like all of a sudden it's like this apprehension. It just gets melted away. And I'm like you. If I'm on the apps, I am disclosing everything upfront because I don't want to hassle with it. I don't want to hassle with having to go through that conversation. And then sometimes I get that question about, are you clean?
I'm like, did you not read my profile? Because clearly you didn't. And I don't know. I am more and more happy that people are cool. They just were like, "I got you. I'm cool. This is fine. Let's go." So I don't know how I feel about the whole, I don't know, disclosure and people on the apps. It is hard to trust what somebody's saying upfront. You never know.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I think that's with everything, on any app.
Murray Penner: The other thing that drives me nuts is that people will question whether or not I'm undetectable. Are you really undetectable? Are you sure? And then I'm like, "Well, are you sure you're taking your prep?" Those kinds of questions.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Throw it back.
Murray Penner: Why is it the person living with HIV that gets all the questions and all the mistrust and everything?
Malachi Stewart: How are you taking responsibility for yourself? Because the one who needs to be sure is you. I can show you the proof that I'm undetectable.
Murray Penner: Sure.
Malachi Stewart: And the science is going to be the science behind that. But, if it was me, I would have given anything to be in a world where at the time before I serial converted or contracted HIV, that prep was an option. That safe sex didn't have to look like just condoms. We live in a world where safe sex can be what you want to be. If I had that option to be able to be in control and protect myself, the idea that people don't want to, I can't relate to it.
Tei Pearson-Hall: That's not relatable.
Malachi Stewart: That's not relatable to me because it's like we're having a conversation. But what if I'm lying to you. And I don't mind adversely when people ask me to prove I'm undetected, I'll show you the most recent labs. I actually green flag that for me because then I know that you're at least you're interested in more than whatever I'm telling you. I also don't know you stink. And let's not pretend we don't live in a world where people will be HIV positive and say they're on prep, where people will be HIV positive and give different... And I understand why. Because for safety issues. Also, some people could be really mean. Really mean.
Murray Penner: And depending on where you live, I mean DC is not as bad, but depending on where you live, you can be criminalized for even just disclosing. That's something that's scary is the criminalization of HIV is still out there. That's a whole other topic we could go down.
Malachi Stewart: So on the avenue of love, so you've never had a partner as far as you know, that was HIV positive.
Murray Penner: Correct, while I was with them.
Malachi Stewart: While you were with them. Tell me more.
Murray Penner: So this is a very recent experience for me. One of my ex-partners who was also one of my very good friends, was diagnosed on March 23rd of this year.
Malachi Stewart: Wow, this year.
Murray Penner: We were together way back in 2008 to about '13.
Malachi Stewart: Long time.
Murray Penner: And we stayed good friends after that. But he was diagnosed on March 23rd and he passed away on June 30th.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Wow. I'm so sorry to hear that. Our condolences.
Murray Penner: It was one of the most difficult things I think I've ever been through, was watching someone because he knew all about me, obviously. He knew the kind of work I do, which is a lot of education for HIV. He was sick, went to the hospital, got diagnosed, and roughly three months later he passed away. And watching that progression so rapidly was... Sorry. Was really a lot like the early days of the epidemic. And it was watching somebody that I love and care about. And there wasn't anything that can be done. He got on HIV medication and he became undetectable really quickly, but his immune system was already way too far gone.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Wow. First thank you for sharing.
Malachi Stewart: Yes.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Thank you for sharing just that very personal piece of your journey with us. Can I ask you a question though?
Murray Penner: Of course. Of course.
Tei Pearson-Hall: When he was diagnosed in March, he reached out to you before or after?
Murray Penner: Well, we were in contact regularly because he was in the hospital and he was sharing with me what was going on. Yeah, he told me right away. And then I helped try to get him into services and those kinds of things. It was just something that I've experienced with a lot of my friends, dying, but I had not experienced it with somebody so close. And now.
Malachi Stewart: In 2023.
Murray Penner: Now, because that happened back in the '90s, it doesn't happen now. It shouldn't happen now.
Malachi Stewart: It doesn't happen. I was going to ask, was he adverse to taking medication? Did he struggle with accepting his diagnosis?
Murray Penner: Well, I don't know all. I don't know that I can answer all that, but because I don't know. I don't know whether he was just so felt so stigmatized and ashamed about even being gay.
Malachi Stewart: Yeah.
Murray Penner: I think the fact that he was in an environment that he couldn't be himself, I think probably led to a lot of keeping things internal. And whether or not he knew that he was HIV positive and just didn't disclose it and had to disclose it because he had gotten so sick. Or whether he just found out. Regardless, there was something there that was keeping him from health seeking behaviors and becoming, staying healthy. And he's one of the two that you talk about. He was black and I think really struggled with who he was as a person.
Malachi Stewart: That's a big reason why, at least, I do this work because I think representation matters. And I've had so many people reach out, new positives, even when I was an inherent specialist and they were like, "I see you. You're healthy and vibrant and happy. That makes me feel like that there's a life beyond." But I definitely know what it's like to be in an environment where you're stigmatized and maybe even sometimes feeling like when people feel like you deserve it sometimes can make you feel like...
Murray Penner: Or you think people think you deserve it.
Malachi Stewart: Or you think people think you deserve it. And sometimes they do things that make you think that. They may not even feel that. I don't think people in my family will walk around like, "He deserves that." But if you say homosexuality is an abomination, in church, and then you passed out shouting, they put towel over you after that sermon
Tei Pearson-Hall: Pray it away, Pray it away.
Malachi Stewart: I feel like you feel like. And that's a fair assumption. I definitely appreciate you sharing because I think that that still needs to be told. I know what it's like to see someone in present time and to watch them deteriorate, physically deteriorate. And you know medically that this didn't have to happen. Yet, you also understand that it's really stigma that kills in this present time. So thank you for sharing that.
Tei Pearson-Hall: And Murray I just want to be transparent since you shared a piece of you. So I understand that I lost a dear friend of mine who was a little sister to me, at 24. From 19 to 24, her progression happened and the rapid happened a little bit after I found out about her journey and her decision to not take medicine, to not be adherent, to just go with the silence and not live with the stigma. So I share that space with you, of sitting and watching that progression very, very quickly with I can't put on a cape and help save attitude. So thank you. Thank you again.
Murray Penner: You're welcome. And I'm sorry about that, too, because it is a painful process to watch that. And when I tested positive in 1986, and then I decided, I did a lot of volunteering, but I started working in HIV in about '92, officially working in HIV. I felt like I had been given opportunities and was privileged, and I wanted to pay that forward by trying to help people so that they didn't have to go through what many others go through. And so that's why this was also really painful for me because it's like I worked so hard to make sure that people have access to medication and that they know their status and that they're on prep if they are HIV negative. I help a lot of people in my circles just get what they need because it is hard to navigate everything. And so the fact that I couldn't do that with him was really hard.
Malachi Stewart: I definitely could understand that. But I want to say, as a person who has worked also in the field for a while and has lost a few people, who had spoke at my patient's funeral, that, you know this, but the biggest part of us advocating is respecting people's agency.
Murray Penner: Absolutely.
Malachi Stewart: And sometimes people's decision, indirectly or directly, is that I don't want to live like this. Or I don't want to live. Or I can't push past. And so just wanting to remind you that that's not a reflection of your work and what you put in.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Absolutely.
Malachi Stewart: But it's actually a beautiful space in which you allow people to have the final moment be on their terms. Because sometimes that is all we can give people. And speaking of advocacy, you are an advocate. You do a lot of work. Tell us what that's been like. What has it been like to navigate that? What does that look like for you?
Murray Penner: Well, it's been amazing. There's been so many opportunities. And the other thing that I always think about, thank you for saying that about, this is not a reflection of you. But the other thing I always think about is all the people that we do help in our advocacy work and us speaking out and everything that we may not ever know about. Because that same experience that happened to my friend doesn't happen to a lot of people. And so we don't always hear the good things that happen. But being an advocate has been great. Now I am focusing a lot of my advocacy now on trying to step aside and let young leaders come in to the field. I've been doing this for a long time. I want to enjoy my life. I want to step down at some point.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Get the next group out.
Murray Penner: Fairly soon. Do some things I want to do versus working. And I'm at that age where I can do that.
Malachi Stewart: That's called solid life. I'm manifesting that for me.
Murray Penner: For me now, the advocacy is really about trying to let people understand what has happened and where we have come from. Like this experience with my friend really has allowed me to talk about the fact that it still happens to people. And so we have to be stronger advocates to make sure people have all they need to be healthy, whatever that is. But it's also an opportunity to go back and talk about what we don't want to see again. Having lost so many friends in the early days of the epidemic, I know that sometimes people are like, "I don't want to hear that. Well, that's not where we are today." But guess what? We can still be there today. It still happens. And understanding the past I think is important in that process.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Good segue way to my next question. So when we talk about the past and we talk about the present and just the rules of engagement, but I heard you use a word that I want to throw back, privilege. And so when we talk about privilege, it's not hard to notice that you're a white male.
Murray Penner: Sure.
Tei Pearson-Hall: And so when we talk about privilege and advocacy or privilege and living with a status, what things have you seen, even your professional or your personal, that you're like, "I still have privilege despite my status, I still recognize the privilege of being a white male in this society." So could you talk a little bit about that?
Murray Penner: I'll give you a really recent example. I see a private physician. Great doctor. Have seen him for a long time. I walked into his office and said, "I want to take doxycycline as PEP for STIs." I don't know if y'all are familiar with that. You can take doxy after sex and not have it.
Malachi Stewart: If you were exposed, you won't contract.
Murray Penner: Yeah, if you were exposed, not have it progress to an STI.
Tei Pearson-Hall: So it's like the morning after pill for HIV.
Murray Penner: It's like the morning after pill for STIs.
Tei Pearson-Hall: STIs, okay.
Murray Penner: My doctor was like, "Sure, here's a prescription."
Tei Pearson-Hall: Okay. Wow. Just that easy.
Murray Penner: Just that easy. But I know a lot of people, and I've had conversations with people, mainly people of color, that have done the same thing and gone to their doctor and they can't get it. Now, it might be the doctors, I don't know. But it also, to me, speaks to what we know is there, is that the color of your skin, you get treated differently. And so my advocacy has been about trying to break down those barriers and really change those things. But me, as a white person, sometimes it's like, "Oh, you're a white person. You got this privilege."
Tei Pearson-Hall: Right. Right. So you can't even speak on it, right. So they think.
Malachi Stewart: But I think it's important that you do speak on it because I definitely have had those same experiences. We just going to call it a thing, a thing. Working at some of the organizations here, I have seen the differences in how even if they have a center here and then a center in ward 78, the differences in how they fund those centers, the differences in how those centers look. I've definitely seen patients come, speaking of DoxyPEP, seeing patients come in and get a year supply of prep. A year supply.
Tei Pearson-Hall: In one visit?
Malachi Stewart: In one visit. So this is why that should never happen. In order to be on prep, every three months, you're supposed to have an HIV test to make sure that you're HIV negative. You wouldn't want someone who, because you don't know if people are taking the medication that's prescribed. So you wouldn't want someone to serial convert or contract HIV. And then for long term, you're still taking prep because that's not going to have enough of the components of an HIV regimen to really get you where you need to be to keep you virally suppressed and to keep your body functioning healthy. And so if you give somebody a year supply upfront.
Tei Pearson-Hall: They're not coming back for testing or nothing.
Malachi Stewart: Well, they have their prescription, so if they don't come back for testing, they still have their prescription. And to see people cell convert from that. But it was a good old boy system. Adversely in those centers...
Murray Penner: Good old white boy system.
Malachi Stewart: Good old white system. And not only were the patients, it never really rectified the providers who did it. It wasn't held accountable for it. I do understand that if you see people that look like you, so we have to be clear on what these spaces look like. If you're a person, you see somebody who looks like you, you automatically have a different level of compassion and empathy when it comes to that. That's why I push patients so hard about advocating for themselves, about you being in the driver's seat. I have seen patients, and the adverse part about it, is that even as black people sometimes we see somebody white and it's like, "Oh, I trust them, that they must know." I have had patients on regimens that were making them so have struggles with incontinence so bad I had to meet patients in my car because they just pooped on themselves on the bus. And I'm coming to bring you a change of clothes and bring you stuff out.
And then they're still afraid to ask for a different regimen when I'm telling them there's other options because, "My white doctor said it and I don't want to..." He's like, "Oh, she's fine with my regimen." She didn't poop on herself on the bus, baby, you better. I appreciate you talking about their privilege because, and a lot of times when I am advocating, why are we giving people prep for a year? Why does one location look all nice and fancy and this other location have donated furniture for the black people?
Tei Pearson-Hall: Right? Hello?
Malachi Stewart: I'm easily able to be dismissed as the angry black man.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Got you.
Malachi Stewart: When you just have us advocating for ourselves, it's dismissible like, "Oh, look at you out here upset and angry." And have you seen that experience?
Murray Penner: Yeah. Yeah. The characterization, it's not just black men, it's black women, too. Angry black women.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Definitely, we raised our voice a little bit.
Murray Penner: Yeah, you're the angry black woman. Well, I want to see more angry white people who are fighting.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Come on, now.
Murray Penner: No, seriously, because we don't get angry enough. I don't think we meaning white people. I don't think we're using our privilege in ways that increases access and opportunities for people of color. So that's part of my advocacy is really about how can we be allies because I see myself, in a lot of instances as an ally, not as a person living with HIV. Yes, I'm a person living with HIV and an advocate. But I can be an ally for a lot of other people that don't have the same agency that I have.
Tei Pearson-Hall: There you go. Thank you, Murray. Come one, now.
Malachi Stewart: I 100% am one of those people who agree that any community that's facing injustice should outrage everybody. Don't wait until it's you. Don't wait until it's your folks. Because I never mind the angry black man dismissal, although a lot of my elders would be like, "Chi, you going to lose your career real early on because you keep talking to these CEOs crazy." But I have to because if I'm an advocate and I have to be able to put, do I want to get far in my career? Do I want to see people have healthy lives and change.
Angry black man me all day. I am angry. I'm angry at injustice. I'm angry when there's not equality in how we're speaking for people. And I'm upset, like you said, that you aren't angry. I'm actually disappointed in those spaces because if we're being honest, a lot of these federally qualified health centers, a lot of these HIV clinics, a lot of these places, what they have in common is that at the very tip of the top is mostly white men who are not living with HIV, who are cisgendered, who are heterosexual, who go back to their community, who go back to their families.
And you can easily turn a blind eye to something that you don't have to look at every day. I, however, am parting with these people. For people who work in this field, you can't go to Nelly's, you can't go to Number 9. You can't go to The Fireplace without seeing your patients. And you trying to protect HIPAA. And they yelling out, "Did my results come in?"
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yeah, not at the club.
Malachi Stewart: Girl, walk outside with me. Walk outside with me. So it's a different experience. I can't advocate for something or try. I'm not going to be out here capping for nothing that no white CEO did in my organization. And it's crazy. I'm like, I'm going to stand by and support you, girl. I'm going to talk about you when I get to the club. I'm going to let people know that I disagree with you. So I really appreciate your call to action.
Murray Penner: Well, and I also have always given people permission to call me out because I'm not going to do everything. So I want to called out if I'm not saying something right or opening the doors or doing something that I need to be doing. So I always invite people to tell me if I can do better because I always want to be better.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yeah. Thank you for that. And I think we all do. And like Malachi, I said thank you for your call to action because we do need folks that's within that space to say, I need you to come on over into this space with me.
Murray Penner: Or let's go into this space together.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Together is a great thing.
Malachi Stewart: Yeah, for sure.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Together is a great thing because we know that it's something that has no name, it has no color, it has no demographic attached to it. It's simply, as Malachi says, you having sex, it leaves you out there for option. And so thank you for creating that space and using your privilege as a means to get a point across. And so thank you. Going back just a little bit. So we talked about your partner who had passed away. What does your love life look like now though? I just want to know.
Murray Penner: Right now, I feel like, I'm going to say it, that I'm trying to live my best life. But right now that does not include a love life.
Malachi Stewart: I understand.
Tei Pearson-Hall: And that's okay.
Murray Penner: It doesn't mean I don't have sex.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Hello. Not y'all business.
Malachi Stewart: Little bit different.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Not your business.
Malachi Stewart: Shout out to them being different.
Murray Penner: But I think right now I'm just trying to focus on myself. And to be honest, the experience I've gone through with my friend has been really tough. And I haven't felt like being in a romantic situation. But I also feel like, if it happens, it's going to happen. I'm not actively looking for anything. But I've been single for a few years. I could stand a little cuddling now and then.
Tei Pearson-Hall: A little now and then.
Malachi Stewart: Listen, I understood. Well, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate, as a OG, just being able to share your perspective and your story. This was definitely a different conversation. And so I definitely appreciate y'all and listen.
Tei Pearson-Hall: And necessary.
Malachi Stewart: If y'all home, he big single out here. He ain't looking, but he ain't opposed either.
Murray Penner: That's right.
Malachi Stewart: And also I hope that you all are able to hear the call to action. I didn't say it, he did. So take from that what you will and draw your own conclusions about how different communities navigate different spaces. And listen, we dropped some resources. I don't know if y'all were listening, but we were talking about things like DoxyPEP. If y'all want to hear about those resources, if you want to hear about what that means, please visit us on our website. If you want to catch up on old episodes, see what we have been talking about, what we will talk about, visit us at We have a dictionary there as well to go over some of the terms we use. We definitely want you to get those resources.
And if you're looking for other resources in the area, any resources anywhere in the country, you can go to ww.Link, L-I-N-K, the letter U,, and you're able to put in your zip code. You can give resources anywhere, whether it's like, I need rental assistance or I need access to medical care. So please visit us there. Listen, wherever you see this, drop something in the comments. Let us know how you felt about today's conversation.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Talk to us.
Malachi Stewart: Talk back to us because we watching, we are listening, and we definitely want to continue to give you all content that you deserve. Until next time, it's Malachi Stewart.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Hey, Tei Pearson-Hall.
Malachi Stewart: All right. And we'll see y'all later.
Tei Pearson-Hall: We'll see you guys the next time. Thanks, Murray.
Murray Penner: It's been great being here. Thanks.

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Meet the Guest

Murray Penner

Murray Penner has been living with HIV since 1986 and has a deep personal interest in ensuring that people with HIV have access to the care and support needed to stay healthy and achieve an undetectable viral load. Throughout his career, he has been committed to helping improve people’s sexual health and quality of life, reducing HIV stigma and shame, and working to achieve racial and social justice so that everyone has access to the healthcare they need to stay healthy.

Murray currently serves as Executive Director for U=U Plus. He previously served as the U.S. Executive Director of the Prevention Access Campaign and as Executive Director at NASTAD from 2015 to 2018. Before those roles, he was NASTAD’s Deputy Executive Director and director of its care and treatment program from 2001 to 2015. Before his work at NASTAD, Murray was the Ryan White Planning Coordinator for the Fort Worth Comprehensive HIV Planning Council.

Murray has substantial expertise and experience in public health programs, HIV and hepatitis treatments, the Ryan White Program, and drug pricing. He serves on the boards of AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition (ATAC) and HarborPath, Inc., and is a member of the Washington, DC Planning Commission on Health & HIV (COHAH).  He has a bachelor’s degree in social work from Bethel College in North Newton, KS.  

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