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Positive Voices

EPISODE #216 - Black MSM: Navigating Being Most At-Risk


Status, Behavior, and Stigma: Talking about HIV in the Black MSM Community

March 25, 2024. 55:37

Black men who have sex with men are the demographic with the highest risk of contracting HIV, so you know we’re going to talk about it. In this episode, we’re joined by Mark and Zaine, who get into all the juicy details of past relationships, the do’s and don’ts of disclosure, and the state of the Black MSM community in the DMV and abroad. The bottom line? “The positive person is not the problem; the behavior is the problem.”

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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.


Mark Hill: You do what you need to do to take care of yourself and then get out of this denial and this naivete that tells you that a positive person is the problem, where your behavior is the problem.
Malachi Stewart: Hello, hello to everyone in the DMV and Beyond. Welcome back to another episode of Positive Voices. I'm Malachi Stewart.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Hey, I'm Tei Pearson-Hall.
Malachi Stewart: And listen, you probably heard us say a few times, this season and last season, that the number one demographic that is most at risk for HIV is Black men who have sex with men. So it would be crazy for us not to have a conversation with that demographic. So we have two guests with us today who are men who have sex with men, Black men who have sex with men. Zane and Mark. And so if you two would both introduce yourself and tell a little bit about your story. Zane, we'll start with you.
Zaine Williams: Hello, Positive Voices. My name is Zaine Williams. I am a Black man who has sex with men. Why am I labeled as that? Why do we have to be labeled as that? I have a question.
Malachi Stewart: So the reason that we label Black men who have sex with men versus Black men who are just gay is because we want to name the behavior versus the identity. So you can identify-
Zaine Williams: I'm gay as hell.
Malachi Stewart: ... because a lot of people identify as straight, but they have sex with men. You know the story.
Zaine Williams: Positive Voices, I'm gay as hell for all the men out there who are looking, a proud second generation gay. So my dad is also gay, which I think has shaped my perspective in a way that is very different from others, because I feel like a lot of times we're trying to figure it out as we go. But I was very fortunate to have that older, Black gay generation before me. And within that, he was also HIV positive. So I know that this conversation is about disclosure, navigating our life through our sexual health as it pertains to HIV. And because of my background, I've been able to navigate it very differently. I didn't grow up with the fear of it because when it's tangible, when it's somebody that you love, when it's somebody that you've grown up to see who's getting older, you didn't have that fear of oh, they must be sick, or oh, they're dying, or oh, I don't want to drink after them because you grew up with them.
And then as you get older and you're now moving on and kind of sleeping, not kind of sleeping around, but when you're fucking and having your own sexual journey, it's very different. I'm very comfortable to have disclosure conversations. I'm very cool to be like, "I fuck raw and I'm going to smash you, pos or not. I'm taking my sexual health in my own hands. So I think it's definitely shaped my perspective very differently than that everyday Joe, who's out here trying to navigate sexual health, HIV, the fearmongering that's happened. And so I'm very fortunate for them.
Malachi Stewart: It sounds like you're saying you never really bought into the stigma that it's very prevalent in our community. What does it mean when you say you took your own safety into your own hands?
Zaine Williams: So I try to do everything that I can to make sure that I'm safe. So I do PrEP. I'm a big proponent of PrEP. Why? Because I love raw sex. And PrEP allows me... I don't want to say that I'm saying just because I take PrEP or just because you take PrEP, you should be sleeping raw.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Thank you for clearing that up.
Zaine Williams: But I do.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Thank you-
Zaine Williams: I'm just going to let this be known. So I don't believe anybody when they say anything. And so I always say that my sexual health is my responsibility and my responsibility alone. So therefore, I do everything that I can so that I can navigate my sexual health and my sexual experiences in the way that I want.
Malachi Stewart: That makes sense. And final question before we are done with your introduction. How long have you been on PrEP?
Mark Hill: Oh, it's been four years. Three, four years.
Malachi Stewart: Okay.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Okay.
Malachi Stewart: Okay, thank you for sharing.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Thank you.
Malachi Stewart: Mark, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Mark Hill: Well, my name is Mark and I am on post. But no, just my joke about PrEP and post, but anyway-
Malachi Stewart: You on post. Oh, he said-
Mark Hill: ... I'm on post.
Malachi Stewart: Listen, I thought that. [inaudible 00:03:30]. We are coining that phrase here at Positive Voices, PrEP and post.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Post, yeah.
Mark Hill: Yeah. And so I'm 45 years old, I'll be 46 soon. And I was diagnosed when I was 21. I remember the day like yesterday, and the doom and gloom I felt. I went down a very dark, dark, dark tunnel for a long time. Not super long, but for the next five years I thought I was going to die. And then because it was 1999, all I had was the images of Philadelphia and the AIDS Quilt, blah, blah, blah. But somewhere along the way, I saw that I wasn't going to die, and things changed. Also, it put me into a state of depression and I got caught up in drugs and really bad. And then I stopped. So for the last 19 and a half years, I've been clean and so-
Tei Pearson-Hall: Hey, we will clap for that.
Mark Hill: Okay, clap.
Tei Pearson-Hall: We clapped for that.
Mark Hill: That's good, thank you. And January, it will be 20 years. So at this point I've been positive more than half of my life. And if I stay on this path when I'm 52, I'll be clean half of my life as well. So it is been an interesting journey. I find that I've seen the different stages of HIV stigma amongst the Black gay community or MSM, whatever you prefer, go from the whole, "Oh, don't touch him," to oh, some people have been like, "Oh, okay, that's okay. But I'm still a little scary of it." And then the whole, even in 2023, it seems really weird to me that Black gay men still hold on to some of the stigma related to being positive as if there's like this badge of honor if you've avoided HIV, if you've been able to navigate it and not be positive, the whole how on some of the apps they're like, "HIV negative, drug and disease free, and nobody who's not that should try to talk to me," or whatever type of thing energy.
Malachi Stewart: Yeah. But you'll gag and tell me your experience. A lot of people put that on their profile, they're clean, DDF, drug and disease free. And then as a person who it says on my app that my status, it says that I'm positive, because I don't care. The same people still slot in the DMs. It's not like it stops y'all, y'all just put that, is that a decoration? Because it doesn't change as far as how people navigate. How would you say, because you named the stigma of you've seen different phases of the stigma. Can you describe what those different phases were and how they may have affected you?
Mark Hill: Well, I remember being very upfront and disclosing and having a lot of people be okay with it. Majority of folks were like, "Okay, that's fine. Thanks for telling me." Then others were kind of like, you could see the whole Petri dish behavior. Like let me just inspect and make sure there's no cuts, I don't want to catch your virus-
Malachi Stewart: Oh, that would turn me off.
Mark Hill: And it did.
Malachi Stewart: That's a bit much.
Mark Hill: But I'm just saying. I've even had a guy to say, "I practice safer sex. And so although I appreciate you telling me I don't want to have sex with a person who's positive." And I was like, "Okay." But those moments sting and have stung differently. Then the majority of the time people are fine with it. But it's those moments where the people are not that it just adds to the feeling of this is why I shouldn't tell the people, because I don't need to go through that, because if somebody is willing to have sex with somebody who they don't really know and not really be building a relationship, that is just something that is probably there, whether a person knows that they're positive or not.
Because a person could believe that they're negative and tell you that I'm negative, really believing that they are and not be. So the person who is positive and who's taking care of their health is the person who is going to be the safer choice, even though you think you're practicing safer sex by avoiding him. But I was much younger then. Now that I'm a lot older, the majority of the times I have disclosed and somebody has been like, "Yeah, me too." That's the majority of the time.
Malachi Stewart: The majority of the time. Yeah, me too.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Oh, me too.
Mark Hill: And then the latter has been, the second majority is, "Yeah, well, I'm on PrEP." A lot of guys, I think, even are not on PrEP, but they are happy that the person is undetectable because then that gives them their belief that they are fine.
Malachi Stewart: No, that makes a lot of sense.
Mark Hill: I don't know if I've addressed the-
Malachi Stewart: No.
Mark Hill: Okay.
Malachi Stewart: You did.
Zaine Williams: Can I ask a question? I know I'm not a host, but I just want to ask a question.
Tei Pearson-Hall: It's a conversation, [inaudible 00:08:06].
Zaine Williams: As it pertains to your disclosure, have you ever disclosed to someone that was beyond a hookup and it didn't go well? And then what was that like and how has that impacted you? Because I think a lot of times-
Mark Hill: Beyond a hookup?
Zaine Williams: So were you trying to build something with, you wanted to connect with, dating, have you ever disclosed within that? And then it was like, "You know what, we've been doing this." And then I've disclosed and then it changed. Does that make sense, my question?
Mark Hill: No. Yes, it does make sense. I have not experienced that because usually if it's just a hookup, it stays just a hookup. And the few rare cases where the hookup has become more, a little bit more whatever, and I'm like, "Hey, there's something we haven't talked about," that has normally gone well. I do remember a situation with a guy who we were having raw sex, and then I remember the HIV commercial came on and we're just sitting there. And so then the guy's just like-
Malachi Stewart: Awkward.
Mark Hill: ... yeah. The guy's like, "That's fucked up." He was just like, "When's the last time you've been tested?" I was like, this done fucked me raw for the last... It was just hooking up and stuff, but he done me raw several times and is asking me this now, in that moment I was like, "Yeah, that's messed up," because I was just going on with, you know what I mean?
Malachi Stewart: Yeah.
Mark Hill: And in my mind I had shut it off that there is no way I'm ever going to tell him because I just didn't like the way that he responded to it. And then furthermore, along those lines, there have been times when I have been in hookup mode and somebody has said something like, I wouldn't call it inappropriate, but something that kind of triggers that same feeling of this is not a safe person to now disclose because it's not because I've put him in danger, but because he is ignorant and he doesn't really understand how my being undetectable is not a threat. But he's making me have a virus be that I'm now this demon and he is acting as... So he's not a person who I'm choosing to disclose to unless he's watching this now and then hi. I am still under the belief though that nobody who is becoming HIV positive in 2023 can pinpoint and say that I gave it to them, because I've done everything that I need to do to not be transmittable, you know what I mean?
Malachi Stewart: Yeah. And I want to say human moment, as a person who definitely works in the field, who is super open about their status and doesn't care, as much as I don't care, I do relate to you, what you're saying. It is a bit of a sting because it feels like as the person who's HIV positive and open always, it feels like we take the brunt of the stigma. Whereas most of the time, people who have all those negative things to say are not people who asked you. They're already talking about raw sex. I'm the one that volunteered this information, you didn't even see it on my profile. You don't read profiles.
You looked at the picture and you wanted it, and I get why. We get it. But it's like when I do the double take, like, "Hey, I want to make sure that you're aware of it." It's like we get the, "Oh no, I can't mess with somebody." I think the sting is in that point more about this familiar feeling of rejection, specifically as a Black MSM who is feminine. There's a lot of times, that's not the only place where you're excluded. So it's a very familiar feeling. With that said, Zane, have you ever had anyone disclose? What does that look like for you? Are you a safe person to disclose to?
Zaine Williams: So I try to be. I'm not going to say I always have been. So I'm going to give a couple of stories because I want my truth and I'm trying to be authentic.
Malachi Stewart: Please do so.
Zaine Williams: I was smashing someone, I was engaging in grownup activities with someone who I was low-key kind of feeling. I'm a big proponent of you don't need to disclose to me from jump. If we meet on an app or we connect, I don't believe you anyway. I believe everybody's positive, that's how I navigate it. So you don't need to tell me. But if we're connecting, I'm trying to get to know you, I'm definitely going to have a disclosure conversation. And I call it a conversation because I'm going to say, "Hey, what's your sexual health? Are you comfortable in sharing? What are you comfortable in sharing?"
And then it's beyond just HIV, because there's more than just HIV. But as it pertains to HIV in this topic, the person said, "Nope, I'm negative, on PrEP." I was like, "Okay, all good." At this time, which was a part of our pre-interview, and I was wrong. I wasn't on PrEP at the time, I think is which really kind of stung when I found out that he was positive. And the way that I found out is I went through his phone. If you ever get that inkling to go through a nigga's phone, please go through it. I went through his phone and in there, I found out that he was positive. He was drunk on my couch and I shook him up out of his sleep.
Malachi Stewart: Wait, how did you find out? What in the phone indicated that he was positive?
Tei Pearson-Hall: Right, I'm like text message-
Zaine Williams: It was multiple conversations. One was from his brother. He was like, "That's why I'm going to tell mom and dad that you have AIDS and you're going to die." That wasn't a, he's actually positive. To me, that sounded like a homophobic brother who's ignorant and was trying to use that-
Malachi Stewart: Yeah, because the streets can be shady.
Zaine Williams: ... but then I was like, well, let's see if there's anything in here about pos. And then there are multiple conversations where he disclosed to other people, but for some reason he chose not to disclose to me. Unfortunately, I responded, as I said, I shook him out of his sleep. I did choke him up and I was a little perturbed, for two reasons. One, yes, the fear of I could now be at risk even though I'm always at risk. But the risk is greater right now that I could contract HIV. There was that. And then there's also because I have major trust issues, I'm not perfect as much as it may seem-
Malachi Stewart: You saw a trigger [inaudible 00:13:34].
Zaine Williams: ... I do have trust issues and you lied to me. So I definitely handled that wrong. But we've had a conversation since. And the hard part about it is I said, "You'll always tie my reaction to disclosure and I can't undo that. And I don't want you to think that you disclosing would have got that same reaction. I think if I would've known about this earlier I would have reacted differently, even though I can't say for sure." But I was like, "I wish you would've told me within a PEP window." I'm like, "I get if you want to fuck and you don't think that I'm going to be able to take it. So you're like, I still want to smash. We smash, give me my 72 hours, give me my 48 hours. Let me know, 'Hey, I'm actually positive, you need to do what you need to do.'"
But I didn't even get that. And I was like, "I'm now out here and I have to now believe that you're undetectable." Because he was like, "I'm undetectable." And I was like, I have to believe that when you've lied to me before." And so it was just a series of events that I think I handled wrong, which I now know probably has stained his idea of what it means to disclose, as well as that situation has stained me on what it's like to have a disclosure conversation. But I've also had great conversations where it's been, "Yep or nope, this is that." And I've also had conversations where, which I really respect, they said, "I need to know more about you before I disclose anything." And so this is a conversation. So how would me being negative or positive impact what we're doing?
Tei Pearson-Hall: That's a really good question.
Zaine Williams: What does this mean to you? What are you doing? What is your sexual health? Or who other people... They had a conversation with me beyond, because a lot of times when we think of disclosure, "It's positive, I'm negative." But it's not. It's a conversation. "This is how I get tested. Yeah, I have risk. I do this type of behavior." And it's also about how is this person going to respond? Do I feel safe telling them this? And so I think that was one of the best conversations that taught me a lot about disclosure.
Mark Hill: What year was it when y'all had this? How long had you been talking?
Zaine Williams: That was 2018, '19. He's now one of my best friends. And he's negative, but he does that more for a teaching aspect.
Mark Hill: I'm talking about the person who did not disclose.
Zaine Williams: Oh, that did not disclose, 2020. It was COVID. Yeah, not too long ago.
Malachi Stewart: The one who you knocked his head off?
Zaine Williams: I'm sorry?
Malachi Stewart: The one who you beat... Okay.
Zaine Williams: Shook the one who you shook must be proper. The table
Tei Pearson-Hall: Shook, shook.
Malachi Stewart: The one who you shook.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Let's be proper.
Malachi Stewart: She going to shake the table.
Zaine Williams: No, 2019. Right before COVID, yeah, yeah.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Shake the room.
Malachi Stewart: You said something that really resonated with me when you said that as an impact, you went back behind it and was like, "I don't want you to associate the volatile response with your disclosure, rather associate that with the dishonesty, like you triggered somebody." And you said something that resonated with me the second time was that now I can't trust that you're undetectable, because you've already demonstrated to me that you have the ability to be dishonest.
Zaine Williams: For sure.
Malachi Stewart: I'm curious, Mark, as a person living with HIV, have you ever thought about that? Because I actually never thought about that a person might not be able to trust now that a person's undetectable or do you feel like universal precautions?
Mark Hill: I do feel like universal precautions. I do feel like I have never gone to the doctor and been told I was not undetectable. And I have gone through periods of being like, "Oh shit, I forgot to take my medicine. Oh shit, it's been about four days I forgot to take my medicine," and have been a little bit afraid. I don't know scientifically if in that window I am a little bit more likely to pass the virus than I am if I'm not. But I believe that because of the odds of every time I've been tested, at the time it was every three months, and I think now it's every six months. It has never not been undetectable, to the point where people who are taking meds are undetectable. So there's nothing to trust, unless it's a person who is just in that group of people who don't take their medicine. There are those that exist.
But I don't believe a person who takes his medicine is passing on a virus. So we have to trust the science and not the person. And the people on PrEP, because I remember there's always been these people who say, "Oh, I know somebody who was taking PrEP and he still got it." I'm sure he wasn't taking PrEP the way he was supposed to be taking it. Because I think that even if you took PrEP two to three days out of the week and supposed to every day, you're still protected and you're not going to catch the virus. I'm not a scientist, I don't know exactly. But it goes back to the same thing. You don't trust anybody, you don't have to trust anybody. You trust the medicine. And the medicine is what has made this world the way that it is right now. That young Black gay men do not have to become positive because they can either be on PrEP, fucking people who are undetectable or not come into contact with it because it's getting less and less in the community, you know what I mean?
Malachi Stewart: Yeah. I think that definitely falls under, whether you're talking about taking PrEP but not taking it as often as prescribed or I take my antiretroviral therapy, but I don't take it as prescribed. That kind of falls under it's harm reduction. There's a reduced risk of contraction either way, but it's not guaranteed that scientific kind of 100% with that.
Mark Hill: And another thing, it's not like these are women out there in the world thinking the man that I'm with has not fucked around with any other man before. These are men, Black gay men or Black MSM, who have lived their entire lives with HIV in the picture. You said your father was positive, I didn't grow up not hearing about it. So even though I was 21 and young and everything, on the day of the announcement, so to speak, I was going into the Army. I thought I was going to the Army, and they were like, "Well, you had a little hiccup in your application." And that was what it was. That's how I found out.
But I wasn't like, "Oh my God, how did this happen?" It was just like, Oh shit." And at that point, I had had gonorrhea once. And I didn't really spend a lot of time trying to think of who could it have been. But I knew that it could not have been but so many times because it was only a few unprotected sexual situations because back then condoms was the push. Everybody was on condoms, condoms, condoms, condoms. And so I could pinpoint down to about three or four different situations that could have been the moment. And it probably was the gonorrhea moment, because there was something about knowing that I contracted gonorrhea that made me afraid to ever get another HIV test.
And about two or three years had gone by between that period, because they told me at the gonorrhea infection, "It's negative for HIV, doesn't mean that you don't have it." Something along those lines. You need to come back and get tested in another 30," maybe. I don't even remember if it was 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, six months, at some point. But I knew in my mind, I ain't never going back, because I was just like... So when I took that HIV test for the Army, it was a little small piece of possibility. And I say all that to say that there has to be an idea in Black MSMs that they're likely going to come in contact with somebody who is HIV positive and either can spread it to them or can be protected, so to speak, by using PrEP or by being undetectable. But you don't live in this world of HIV doesn't exist in our community.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I think the silence definitely equates to that, the whole stigma. And I think for the Black community, it's like one of those, and I speak for me. If I feel like the doctor going to tell me something wrong and they say, "Go get some lab work. We need to go run some labs, and I'll call you." And I'm sitting like, "You not about to tell me my sugar high. You ain't about to tell me my liver's fatty. I already know. And I'm not going to stop eating pork bacon, so maybe I won't go back." So I thank you for that. You were about to say something, Zane.
Zaine Williams: No, no, no. I was going to say, so I grew up in rural Kansas in the middle of nowhere. And if it wasn't for my father, I don't know how much exposure I would've had to HIV AIDS awareness. But now since I moved to New York and I moved to bigger cities and globally, you now understand that there are cities that it's very open, it's very discussed, it's very real. But then there are places where it's not. And the idea of AIDS is this far off imaginative thing that isn't tangible and that isn't real to you. And it's not in our community, but there's also not gay men in our community. And then the secret life of gay men that they're having the idea of AIDS and HIV isn't happening. And so I don't know. I don't want us to say or think that Black men who have sex with men are fully aware of the risk because that education and awareness is not equally distributed.
Malachi Stewart: Hence, why we have this platform. And I will say that I remember a moment just promoting actually Positive Voices, and my gay son had come up from Philadelphia. I only have one gay child, although many are my sons. And he came here for the event and he was just sitting there, "I just want to tell you, pop, that I love the work you're doing, and I don't look at you differently." And I was like, "Oh, Stink, I don't care." But I appreciated that. I'm not in that place. I also had to remember he's in Philadelphia, and when I go home, it is not DC. Their understanding of what PrEP is honestly gives me 10 years behind, and how normalized it is here. So even socioeconomic things, how high education is in that area, all those things are things that feed into what people know and don't know.
I was very surprised, among him and his friends, they actually were like, I run a testing program, it was like, "Can you bring some of them home tests? Because we haven't got tested." I was like, "Y'all ain't been testing in when?" And it was shocking to me to learn in 2023, and y'all still not... It's why we're on this platform. It is not as prevalent. As a person living with HIV, because it feels like, yo, to some degree, I feel like that's all you ever talking about. That's all you ever have to say. Every hookup, every conversation, every app. It feels like such a normal conversation. It is easy to forget that for some people it's like out of sight, out of mind.
Mark Hill: Yeah. And I think that's easy to forget, like you said that. Because I don't think about it because I grew up in this area. And even though I went to Ohio State and when I was in Ohio, I noticed a slowness and a differentness among the Black people there, they weren't the DC Blacks? And so you being from Kansas, I think that in this area, we have a split down the middle. There's a lot of people who grew up here and are from here, have a DC mentality or mindset, and then a lot of others who come from these other places. And we don't really think about the transplants as being so, for lack of a better term, so naive to not understand that HIV is a thing in the Black gay community. It doesn't make sense to me that any Black man and having sex with men could not understand that HIV is prevalent.
I even challenged if your father had it, and so in rural Kansas, why wasn't it something that you thought about? Not you personally, but I just think that a lot of people still, Black gay men, are in denial about the fact that it's there. And that it's as prevalent as it is or that it's a possibility. But then I also could be jaded because I've worked in the fucking health department for almost 14 years, 14 years a slave to the mentality of HIV is everywhere. HIV is all over the place. And go to these conferences and you just see people from all over the country. But these are the advocates, and I guess the message is still not getting out there as much as it needs to be. And maybe that's what this will help to do. But I still hold the belief that there is no reason, at least in 2023, for a Black MSM to believe that if he's negative, that he is not at risk if he's having sex with another Black MSM.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Can I ask all three of you guys actually, a question? So do you think that the machoism in the Black male community plays a role in the silence or the... I don't want to say naive, because I feel like anyone who's having sex know that they're at risk. And so if we add the extra component of the Black MSM, is it better just to say ignore? It won't be me, to not even acknowledge, not even recognize the risk, because then that takes away my wanting to have a hookup at this moment. It shifts the dynamic. And so as a Black man, I'm not even going to think that can happen to me because we're focused just here.
Zaine Williams: Personally. I think it's just I have to choose my words carefully, because when you're on an app and your dick is hard and all you want to do is fuck, you actually don't give a about any of these STDs quiet as it's kept. I hate to be the-
Malachi Stewart: I was going to say that actually-
Zaine Williams: ... I hate to be the bearer of bad news.
Malachi Stewart: ... I was going to say that, yeah.
Zaine Williams: They're not thinking about risk, they're not thinking about disclosure conversation. They think about nothing. So unfortunately, that is prioritized. And yeah, pre-orgasm stupidity is real. And I think that's what the problem is.
Malachi Stewart: It's not a sexy conversation for anybody. I can't speak to the masculinity, because I don't know her. But I don't, been her, if him, bitch, queen, been her, him, she, her, y'all see-
Tei Pearson-Hall: I picked up a couple, it's okay.
Malachi Stewart: Period, period, period, period. No, I think that it's definitely along the spectrum. If we're speaking even socially, men are able to navigate the world differently. So when men are with women, they are not able to show up a certain way because it's just socially unacceptable. But when men are with men, we both know what it is.
Tei Pearson-Hall: What it is, okay.
Malachi Stewart: There is not a sexy conversation sometimes to be able to say or even to talk about it. Nobody wants talk about that. Now for me and Mark, we worked in the health field, it ain't going to make us off. We're fine. We talk about it and I'm still... I'm assuming, is that true for you?
Mark Hill: Yeah.
Malachi Stewart: Yeah.
Mark Hill: I don't think macho affects the HIV. I think that there is machismo, I think, is that the term?
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yeah, I can't pronounce that.
Mark Hill: It does affect the dynamic of Black gay culture. And to a degree, everybody wants a masculine top. If Malachi-
Malachi Stewart: I don't-
Mark Hill: ... if Malachi was the top, the majority of the gays that'd be like, "Oh, no, thanks, lady." But at the same time, a lot of people are okay with that, things have changed. But that's adding, I think it's exactly what Zane said as far as the horniness, it just overpowers any sense. That's why they used to try to promote not doing that when you're high and drunk because, or they ask you how many times do you do it when you're high and drunk as if you're less likely to think along those lines.
Malachi Stewart: True.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Well, I think that's for any MSM, woman with women, men with men. If I'm on an app and I want to hook up, we're going to run the risk.
Zaine Williams: What I'm going to do is hook up.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Yeah, yeah.
Mark Hill: Also Black people-
Tei Pearson-Hall: Unless you're looking for a relationship, right?
Mark Hill: ... Black people have overcome so many other things, there's so many other obstacles in our lives and shit, that we don't really focus on that because there's this invincibility type of mentality that I don't have it. I ain't going to get it. Even though my being able to relate to not having it is so long ago, but even in the '90s, I wasn't thinking like, oh yeah, I need to be careful because I might get it. Even though to a small degree, I would be like, oh shit, we fucked raw. I hope I don't have it. So it's like you just kind of like have this idea that it's just not going to happen because a lot of things that we do that we don't think are going to happen, fuck up your credit, and you just-
Malachi Stewart: I didn't think that was-
Mark Hill: ... get a job. Everything, there's a lot of things that you think it's just not going to happen, and then it happens. You're like, oh, great, it happened. But the HIV is not one of those things that you're like, oh, yeah, I hope it happens to me. You just kind of think it won't.
Malachi Stewart: I've never met anybody who is positive and openly talks about it and said, "Oh, I thought one day." It always feels like something that's far removed until it's not far removed anymore. And then it becomes your reality.
Mark Hill: But the conversation doesn't happen a lot. It really only happens in those scenarios of like if I were at a party and we were all just chit-chatting and the room has become a unsafe place, that's not a room I'm going to disclose in. Unless I feel like, well, I can't believe these guys are saying such ignorant things. But the majority of the times that I have heard people say ignorant things around it, I've just let it be. Or I'll say, "Well, you could get tested, or you could get on PrEP and blah, blah, blah, blah." And then that starts this whole other conversation. "PrEP ain't going to protect you from all the other STDs," and all of that stuff that they talk about. So there's this idea that people want to just act like STDs like HIV and other STDs don't exist, but then they want to still fuck raw and put themselves at risk of it. It's just weird.
Malachi Stewart: Can we kick it?
Tei Pearson-Hall: Go for it.
Malachi Stewart: Because I want to talk about what it means for a room to be unsafe or a conversation to be unsafe. And I'm going to tell you what inspires this. When I first moved to DC I had a white roommate and I noticed that he would host parties a lot. And all his little white girlfriends would come around. And I remember one time they were outside in the yard having a party and somebody's phone went... And he was like, "Oh, time to take my PrEP." Everybody said, "Oh, I haven't taken mine too." Everybody pulled their PrEP out and took their PrEP pills. Cute. Watch this though.
And then I noticed one day I had to do something with my Black friends and they were asking me to ask other friends that were positive. And it was a moment that I realized the majority of my friends work in the field. I don't know who's on PrEP. I don't know who's HIV positive. I am the only one who was the open person. And so I immediately realized between these two, there's something there. So it would just be crazy not to in this moment where we have other Black gay men here to talk about is there a difference? Because are y'all noticing that we're having conversations about, "Well, I'm on PrEP too, or I'm HIV positive too."? Or do those rooms become unsafe?
Zaine Williams: So I do. I have friends. I have Black girlfriends who, we're on PrEP timer type thing. I had that situation with Black girlfriends.
Malachi Stewart: Is it because you're from Kansas?
Zaine Williams: But that's when I was living in New York, tried it, bitch.
Malachi Stewart: I did try it.
Zaine Williams: Shout out to the Brooklyn girls. But yeah, no, that's when I was living there. It was very open, everyone discussed it, everybody talked about it. "Bitch, you got a Gilead card. This will help you get it cheap, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." It was just-
Malachi Stewart: Come on co-pay.
Zaine Williams: ... it was very much a part of the conversation. But I don't really hang in white spaces, so I can't compare and contrast. Shout out to them. I hope they're doing [inaudible 00:32:39].
Mark Hill: Yeah.
Zaine Williams: Sorry [inaudible 00:32:40].
Mark Hill: No shade. I don't either. I've been, like I say, maybe we're just chit-chatting and somebody's on the app saying like, "Oh yeah, I'm about to try to find..." And then somebody will say, "Oh, child, you better hope he's on his meds." Or they'll look at the picture and be like, "Oh, he look like he got a AIDS face." Or something along those lines.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Not the AIDS.
Mark Hill: Yeah, they'll say AIDS face, they'll say, "I smell his disease," looking at the picture. I've seen it happen, and I just be like, "Wow." And I've been surprised because-
Malachi Stewart: It is nothing but the grace of God that I have not, because the way I would've been like, "Girl I know we're not out here talking like this," not in my good 2002s, uh-uh, uh-uh not in my good 2003.
Zaine Williams: And what was your response? How do you challenge it? I mean yeah how do you?
Mark Hill: Sometimes I just choose not to. I just let it be. I'm like, "Oh, well, I can't believe he said that." Or I'm shocked to it. I'll talk about it later to other friends and be like, "Can you believe so-and-so said..." And that's been about it.
Malachi Stewart: But how does it feel?
Mark Hill: It feels like, dang, I'm surprised that this is still happening, that this is still the case. It feels like this is not a place where I would want them to know. I don't know how else to describe it, other than it doesn't feel good. And actually, it feels sad that in whatever time of day it was, whatever time and age it was, that we were still there. It sounded like a conversation that would've been outside of our community.
Tei Pearson-Hall: So in that moment, it was like you couldn't even stand up for someone who shared the same status. Even if we didn't know that they shared the same, but the room wasn't even safe for you to be like, "Don't even say that."
Mark Hill: In the moment, more than likely, I mean most times I have just been like, "Oh, well." But I also have known in that moment that there were maybe somebody else who also chose not to say anything too. So it's just like, well shit, we all are just sitting here letting him sound ignorant and moving on from it. But then there's been other times that when the conversation has been more one-on-one with somebody who I have not yet hooked up with or whatever, or who I just haven't, just because said something along those lines, I would challenge those. But in a big old group, I'm just not in the mood for it.
Tei Pearson-Hall: I'm sorry, go ahead.
Zaine Williams: No. What would you wish somebody who I guess had the privilege to be able to navigate that conversation without fear of disclosure, what would you wish they would say?
Tei Pearson-Hall: That's what I was going to ask too, yeah.
Mark Hill: I don't know. I guess just challenge it. Just say, "Well say more. What do you mean? Why do you think that?" I feel like some of those people don't even realize how many of their closest friends actually also are, and they're saying these things about who they think is a stranger, but they're also saying it about everybody who is the case. And they just happen to be fortunate, for lack of a better term, to not be in those shoes. But those types of people actually will become positive at some point because their realities are warped and they're going to be putting themselves at risk more than likely, unless they just happen to stay lucky their entire life. There's this idea that you make all these right choices by getting with the right person who is negative as opposed to you making all these right choices by doing everything to protect your health.
Malachi Stewart: Absolutely.
Tei Pearson-Hall: And that person may have been positive too, and that was just a way to kind of lighten the conversation and laugh it off.
Zaine Williams: That's true.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Because why would you just jump and say, "Oh, they got the AIDS face." And it's like, let me say something to deflect from me.
Malachi Stewart: And a lot of times people, I get a lot, people are like, "Oh, I love what you do, but you really put yourself out there." It is because of that. I feel like there are so many people who are sitting in mixed rooms where you don't know people's status, you don't know. And as a person, one, there's nothing about my energy that's going to make you knowing that I'm positive, say that in the room that I'm in. So it automatically assumes a safe space. Plus I have 100% check rate. So I have to say something to you, one, as a public health professional. What we not going to do is... Because if we are in a room and we are in the space, you can't be out here, your friends are associated with you.
You can't just not do it in the space I'm in. You can't do it in no space if we're friends. I can't have you out here saying things that's divisive to the community. And at the same time, you can't control people, but they can be checked. And I think it is important for everybody's not that person, but if you have that personality and you don't have that fear of it, it is important to reflect that. Because in spaces where I've had to, sometimes people really are not meaning like malicious intent. But when I have, "I'm sorry, what was you saying?" And to see them draw back. Like you said, you have a certain response because your father was HIV positive. When people love you and care about you, it immediately will change sometimes how wait, how do I feel about these people?
Tei Pearson-Hall: And thank you. I just want to just say thank you for all of you, for just speaking and telling and holding space. Relax.
Zaine Williams: I was like, wait, is this the end? I was like damn, is this-
Tei Pearson-Hall: It's not, no. No, I just wanted to say thank you in this moment to be able to check people and speak your status and stand up for people because you know that it's not like, oh, I can touch you and now I have it. Red light, greet light. My dad was also positive, and so it changes, like you said, of how you view other people because it's like, that's my daddy. I drank after my daddy. You know what I'm saying? It takes gallons of spit for me to even act like I'm going to have an interaction or whatever. And so thank you. I just want to say thank you on behalf of all of us, just thank you for being brave.
Mark Hill: That's true, because I am feeling like all types of trepidation around this podcast.
Malachi Stewart: Why's that?
Mark Hill: Because I'm not as open as you are as it relates to it. In the private conversation, sometimes I have chosen to not disclose because of ignorant other comments that somebody has made. Or I just felt the shame, I guess, or the shame of the stigma, I felt it. And in that moment I was just like, well, fuck it. I don't have to talk about this with him. And so what I fear is that those hims that exist, platonic and past sexual experience hims, are going to be like, "What I'm finding out on this? This is messed up," type of energy. And to those people, you have done it with way more people than me who are living positive lives. You have put yourself at risk way more times than with me. And so those are the things that have led me to not disclose over the years, because of the whole idea of HIPAA laws. When I worked at the Health Department, there was this whole thing about the rooms, those two locked areas that was the safe, unsafe. I couldn't go back there because I didn't work in that type of the information-
Malachi Stewart: Like in surveillance in [inaudible 00:39:39].
Mark Hill: ... surveillance, yeah. And so I couldn't go back there because it was supposedly all this hidden information that you weren't supposed to have. But I also had the moment of thinking, and everybody who works back there has probably seen my name in the list. Not that I know that there's a list or anything. But I'm just saying, for that to be the case in a place where it's all healthcare professionals so to speak, and we are protecting all these people's anonymities as it relates to being positive, then who the fuck are random dudes in the world who're asking and thinking and believing that because they ask, they're supposed to be told an honest answer? Because like he said, don't trust them. And even the people who honestly believe that they're negative, there's a good chance that they won't be, that they aren't when they're saying that they think that they are. And that's because they're believing that, well, I've never had anybody tell me they were positive. Not so much that they're like, I'm doing everything I need to do to not be.
Malachi Stewart: We talk about what it means to be negative, and it's like there's so many people who say they're HIV negative, but it's like when was the last time you've been tested, Stink? Because you may not know that. I want to know who, Zane, as a person here, one of the people here not living with HIV, how does that feel for you for it to kind of what Mark is saying, it not be a conversation that you're owed or a truth that you're owed?
Zaine Williams: In one area, I totally understand it and I respect it because yeah, I'm not owed shit, especially as it pertains to hookup culture. I don't believe, yeah, you owe anything. I think it changes when I think about navigating something beyond hookup culture, I do think I'm owed that. I think it's a part of you and which I'm trying to get to know, it's a part of you that potentially, even though if the risk is very low, impact me. And I think it can set or break the foundation of anything beyond hookups. I do believe that owed is both sides. I owe making sure you understand that this is a safe space for you to disclose, and it doesn't change my perception of you. What it changes is the awareness that I have of you and the awareness that we have of each other. For example, if you were to say, "Hey, I'm positive." "Okay, dope, thank you for telling me."
Still on my PrEP, we're still fucking raw. I'm going to be a little more, I guess precautious, not precautious. But I'm going to be on my PrEP a little more on top of it, even though I should be anyway. But it's different for me in my mind and the fucked up, twisted reality I have of when I'm dating somebody that's positive and I'm sleeping with them regularly, my trust factor that they're going to stay on their meds and they're going to do everything they're going to do, I just don't have that. And so I'm going to stay on my PrEP. And it's different when I say, "Oh, I'm going to take a week or two off PrEP, so I'm not going to fuck anybody," than I'm dating somebody and I'm not going to take my PrEP. So I think it's just the way that we'll navigate our relationship would be differently. But it doesn't change how I feel about the person.
Mark Hill: And it would be hard to have a relationship and not disclose that. I don't feel like people who are in that situation need to not disclose. I feel like also when you're lying, it's hard because say you say, "Yeah, I'm on PrEP," in a hookup world, and I say, "Yeah, I'm on PrEP." And you say, "Oh, okay, cool." Even if you were to be like, "Oh, when do you take your meds?" Those are the type of questions that a person who is not on PrEP is not going to really know. And if I were to think about it, I'd have to be like, "Oh shit, do people take what I'm taking on PrEP?" I don't even know the names of it or if it's changed and how it changes and how often, other than lying, and then you're just lying on top of lying on top of a lying.
It's just easier to disclose, it is. And so it's easier to find spaces where you feel comfortable disclosing more so than just walking through a park and being like, "Yeah, anybody wants to fuck me. I take PrEP." I mean, "Anybody who wants to fuck me, I'm undetectable." It's just crazy. But then you also said the risks, the risks are low. We say that risks are low, but the risks are very low that the person who is positive, taking his meds is going to miss enough meds to give you their HIV. And so it still shifts the mindset and still of you putting it on him and not on you. And it's glad to hear that you say, yeah, you have to take your PrEP all the time as opposed to taking it more sparingly. But it's still your decision to choose to do what you need to do for you and to not villainize the person for living with the same virus that everybody is trying to avoid.
Zaine Williams: And how do we get away... Oh, not me just jumping in.
Mark Hill: Go ahead.
Zaine Williams: How do we get away from disclosure feeling so... Well, no, let me take a step back. Does disclosure feel like a heavy weight for you?
Mark Hill: You're speaking from the bias place of not being positive, so it cannot feel that way for you. But yes, disclosure does feel like a heavyweight because it's just something that the stigma of 30 years still exists. Even if a person is cool with the response, is that moment right before you tell them that you're like, I hope he's fine with this. Or there's this moment that you have to tell yourself, well, even if he's not fine with it, fuck it, I'll move on with my life. But you have that, it doesn't go away. And so I think this platform has just given me an opportunity to practice that more.
Even in those scenarios that I felt like I have in the past not disclosed because I felt like it wasn't none of their business. Maybe I will. And maybe Malachi's example is an example of that if we were all like that. But yes, disclosure is a heavy burden and it's protected by the law. So who are random hookups to expect it? They're nobody. Fuck these niggas. It's like what you said earlier, they are a nobody. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and then get out of this denial and this naivete that tells you that a positive person is the problem, where your behavior is the problem.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Say that again. Say that again. Somebody needed to hear that.
Mark Hill: The positive person is not the problem, your behavior is the problem, and is the possibility, and it's the thing that increases your risk.
Malachi Stewart: And adversely on the other side, I will say it is not a problem now for me, it's not heavy for me now. But that has not always been the case. That has taken a lot of self-work, shadow work. I had to be good because I strongly believe you have to be just good with yourself and how you present. But that's easier said than done. And there are a lot of times where there's matters of safety. And when I say that, we move as a collective, I think a lot of times as a collective people, because the Black MSM community is a collective more than it is a community often. As a person who tries to create community within that, if Mark is sharing, there's not a space that I'm in that Mark's not safe in, period.
You take from that, which you will. However, I can't protect your feelings. I can't be there when your head have to lay the pillow at night and that person, the words that they spoke is speaking to how you feel about yourself and your own insecurities. So I can't expect people to not have that be a heavy space. It's just not a heavy space for me because if y'all just look at how many men there are in the world, it's just like if you just keep moving, honey, out my way, which you're not. If you don't want to accept that, I can accept you not accepting it. And if I could just slide to the side for the 10 that's behind you, 20 that's behind you, 30 that's behind you-
Tei Pearson-Hall: That don't care, yeah.
Malachi Stewart: Yeah, so.
Mark Hill: Stick them back on the assembly line and let somebody else-
Malachi Stewart: Okay. Because it is an assembly line.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Not the assembly line.
Zaine Williams: No, because I think that was the part that I was trying to get to and that you hit on so perfectly. I wonder, and this is a question, do we give too much power to the dumb ass, to those who live with the stigma? Those who are scared, those who are vocalizing their ignorance, do we give them, as a collective, too much power? Is the negative voices sometimes always allowed-
Malachi Stewart: I think stigma does, because stigma, no matter what, even as a person who's openly positive, and I've dated people who are positive, not open. So that becomes a conversation because by proxy, if you're dating me, I've had people ask their partners, like, "I saw your boy guy on the such and such show, where I saw him on a panel. What do that mean for you?" Now my partner is forced to have a conversation, they did not ask for that. So I don't get to show up in the room as all the wonderful, and I am wonderful, honey, things that define me. I'm forced to make this a part of the definition of who I am. Even though that's not, I think stigma makes it that not so much our choice.
Mark Hill: And negative stands out always stronger, higher. You can have the restaurant that does great and everybody's loving it, but then if a person who's never been to the restaurant reads the reviews and they see the four people who had something negative to say, that's just going to shape their mindset of, "Oh, I don't want to experience that negative thing." Because the negativity just always is louder.
Zaine Williams: And then my last question on that was because do we think the stigma is changing and there's just a few negative voices that we're amplifying, but in actuality the stigma is changing? And I'm asking from your perspective.
Mark Hill: I think that's definitely changing. Like I said, I feel way more comfortable today disclosing than I felt when I was 21 years old. But that's 24 years ago, so who knows? I'm surprised more so today when I hear negative stuff as I expected it 21 years ago. So it has changed, but it's not perfect. And I don't expect it to be as strong as it is in the Black MSM community.
Zaine Williams: You feel like it would be stronger in other communities? What do you mean when you say you don't feel like it should be as strong in the Black MSM-
Mark Hill: I get why a Black woman is talking shit about a Black man possibly having HIV because he's sleeping around with other men. I get why a white woman would be like, "Oh, it's not in my community. I don't expect it to be here." And the Asian and then blah, blah, blah, blah. I don't get why Black MSMs, even Black lesbians, Black lesbians have a good reason to believe it's not prevalent in their community. Black MSM do not. Whether they're from rural Kansas or from Hawaii, Black MSM do not have an excuse in 2023 to believe it does not exist-
Malachi Stewart: Because of the prevalence-
Mark Hill: ... because of the prevalence.
Malachi Stewart: ... we know. To answer your question, I think it depends on geography. When I first moved here from Philly, at that time, I was 20 when I found out I was positive, I probably came here, who knows, like 24 or something like that, 23. And when I moved, I was in southern Maryland. So in Calvert County, disclosing to people looked a lot different. There were a lot of hurt feelings. But I was also a new health educator, so when I tell you in my notes section in my little iPhone, I had a whole spiel, like, "That's okay, here's where you can get tested and here's the information that we be needing." And what it means to be, at the time, we knew what it meant to be undetectable. We weren't able to say that it was untransmittable.
But I was able to give that information and talk about low risk and stuff like that. So I used it as an opportunity, that was how I put salve over my own emotional wound. Well, at least I'm doing the work. But I think even back then when I would come hook up in DC or come to DC to go to a bath house or whatever, she ain't live here, y'all know that? It's like the way it was a whole different response. It was like, "Oh, I'm positive." "Oh yeah." Adverse to being a health worker, having to teach. We had to go into the hospitals because the doctors, people were sending people for PEP post-exposure prophylaxis, and the doctors didn't know what it was.
Zaine Williams: I have a story. Houston, Houston, Texas, do better.
Malachi Stewart: Call them out.
Zaine Williams: I was smashing raw, I wasn't on PrEP. It was a lapse. And I was like, I talked to the dude afterwards and he was like, "I'm positive." And I was like, "Oh, shit. Let go do my PEP." Went to the emergency room because I Googled, nowhere had PEP, it seemed like, but the emergency room. And I went and she was like, "Well, PrEP is for before." She was like, "If you've already been exposed, there's not much PrEP can do." And I'm looking at her like, "I'm saying the word PEP, post-exposure." And she was like, "Okay, give me a moment." And it was shocking to me that I don't understand how a medical professional in Houston, Texas in 2021 didn't know what PEP was. And I was just sitting there thinking, and this is part of the problem. Because if I didn't know to fight back and be like, "Bitch, I don't know why you don't know." And I was just listening to her and be like, "Oh, it's too late." What could have happened? Who knows? Sorry, random story.
Malachi Stewart: No relevance.
Zaine Williams: Okay.
Mark Hill: But it's also crazy that in 2021 you're fucking raw and then asking afterwards, "Oh, are you negative or positive?" As opposed to I'm fucking raw and whether or not that person was asked or not, because that person could have said, "I'm negative." And you'd have been like, "Oh, great." And if the person was not on meds or whatever the case was, the question doesn't really become as relevant as the behavior. And the behavior is I take a vacation off my PrEP and then I go to Houston and fuck raw. And that's just like not the behavior that is going to keep you negative.
Zaine Williams: I totally agree, and I take full responsibility on that.
Malachi Stewart: Taking accountability.
Zaine Williams: Listen.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Listen.
Zaine Williams: Okay, because this was leading up to the question. So my questions were, do you feel like the stigmatization is becoming less and it's not allowed negative voices? And you were saying it's not perfect, but it's better. What does perfect look like as it pertains to stigmatization or it pertains to living and navigating with HIV? What does perfect look like? What are we working towards? Because as somebody who calls themselves an advocate and ally, what does that look like?
Mark Hill: At least in the Black MSM community, that we are not in denial about the fact that HIV exists, that we are not exclusionary. Is that the word? That we are not excluding HIV positive people from the table as being less valuable than HIV negative people? Because this world of shoving your papers type of thinking is so ignorant. It's 2001 and not 2023. Perfect looks like we accept our responsibility. I, being a person who is positive, accept the responsibility that I'm going to be taking my medication and I'm going to not be transmittable because I am undetectable. And you being positive, I mean you being negative means you're going to either stay on your PrEP or stay in monogamous or whatever you do to reduce your health, but not depend on HIV positive people to help you stay HIV negative.
Tei Pearson-Hall: Y'all heard it. Oh, well, wow. Another great episode here at Positive Voices. Zane and Mark, thank you both so much for joining Malachi and I for this great conversation. So listen, you heard everything that you needed to know about their journey. If you want to learn more, you can head on over to, take a survey, check out statistics, learn a couple of things. And if you want to see more of Positive Voices season one, even season two, click the podcast button and watch some episodes. We'd like for you to like, share, subscribe, comment, share, okay? Because we want the word to get out to those who may not even know that Positive Voices is here. If you need some support, if you need some resources, we got you, You can put in your zip code, you'll be able to pull resources populated by where you are, where your friends are, whatever you need, rental assistance, transportation, healthcare clinics, we got you. Here's Positive Voices season two. We'll catch you guys on our next episode. Malachi, you look so beautiful today.
Mark Hill: Thank you, baby. Bye, everybody. See you next time.

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Meet the Guests

Mark Hill

Mark Hill has worked in the HIV/AIDS community for 18 years, from 2005-2023. Mark was diagnosed in 1999 when he was 21 years old, and the next 4 years were a blur as his drinking and drug abuse put him in extremely precarious situations. Until finally, he found help through therapy and a 12-step fellowship.  At 26, a year removed from his addiction, he had begun to come to terms with acceptance of his status and was looking for a fresh start professionally, and thus began his work in the HIV field. He started as a program coordinator with the National Youth Advocacy Coalition. This gay youth organization developed the “You Know Different” social marketing campaign targeting youth to get tested for HIV.  He joined the DC Department of Health, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD & TB Administration in 2009, where he served in various roles, providing guidance and leadership to DC area service providers until May 2023, when he decided to leave HIV to work for a regular job in the federal government. Mark leaves behind a legacy of implementing the Fee-for-Value Program and will be greatly missed at HAHSTA, but still invited to the annual cookout. From the age of 1999 to 2023, Mark has seen the progress of HIV medications but has always been amazed by the ignorance and silence that still exists in the black gay community and challenges most people’s ideas that tend to promote stigma. 

Zaine Williams

Zaine Williams is a seasoned Senior Product Manager and Global Tax Technologist at
Amazon, bringing innovative solutions to the intersection of technology and taxation.

Beyond his corporate role, Zaine is the visionary Founder and CEO of Intrsctnl, a groundbreaking platform amplifying the voices of individuals whose identities transcend traditional boundaries.

Originally hailing from Lawrence, Kansas, and proudly associated with the Jayhawk
spirit, Zaine's journey has taken him across diverse landscapes. From the vibrant
streets of Brooklyn, New York to the captivating metropolis of Tokyo and everywhere inbetween, Zaine has embraced the richness of global experiences.

Zaine's advocacy extends beyond the boardroom, as he is a passionate supporter of HIV/AIDS education and awareness, with a particular focus on empowering Black and
Brown men. His dedication to this cause stems from a deep-seated commitment to
social change and health equity.

Zaine's multifaceted talents provides him the opportunity to be the driving force
behind Intrsctnl, pioneering a space where individuals with multifarious identities
can find resonance and representation.

From his formative years in Lawrence to his transformative journeys across continents, Zaine's experiences have imbued him with a unique perspective that fuels his advocacy, entrepreneurship, and leadership. His story is one of resilience, exploration, and a relentless pursuit of a more inclusive world.

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