Good morning. My name is Stephanie Valerie and I am honored to be here. May tends to be a difficult month for me. Mother’s Day reminds me of my mother and my daughter, both of whom I’ve lost. And on May 1, 1997, I found out I was HIV-positive.
When I heard the news about my HIV status, I was devastated. I wanted to die. Thankfully, I called a friend and she told me about GMHC. The staff gave me some wonderful information.
At that point, I knew I needed to tell my mother and my son about being HIV positive. And my mother said to my son, “Listen to me from now on. You don’t have to listen to your mother anymore because she will be dead soon.”
My self-esteem plummeted. I was so desperate to be loved, I made some unfortunate and unhealthy decisions. In 2011, I returned to GMHC and became a client. GMHC became my home. I started going to the support groups.
I joined the Action Center where I have learned about the public policy issues affecting people living with HIV and AIDS. Now I go to meetings and share my story with elected officials and their staff. And with the support of GMHC and a twelve-step program, I have been clean for 14 years.
Last year, I became homeless. GMHC helped me find supportive group housing. Now, I am in my own apartment and it is a wonderful feeling to put the key in my own door. My life has changed dramatically. Today is not a sad day for me. It is a coming out day for me. By speaking to you, I am doing something that I thought would never be possible: I am walking with my head up, held high.
And I want you to know my son, Shad, is here. He flew here from Chicago to be with me on this incredible day. I have gone through a lot with my son about my HIV status. But now, he is my biggest supporter. We will be walking together. As you walk today, please know that I am so grateful for your help. I love GMHC. Thank you very much.