When Calvin Gerald was growing up in Saint Stephen, S.C., he rarely associated HIV/AIDS with gay sex. It wasn’t discussed among his family and he viewed condom use as a mostly straight practice.
Even his two uncles who died of AIDS contracted it through drug use.
“My whole thing was naiveté and ignorance,” the 32-year-old gay HIV activist says. “It was just never discussed and if it was, it was in a negative context.”
When Gerald contracted HIV from his second boyfriend in early 2008, he wasn’t terribly upset. He only cried when he saw his family and friends cry about it. He decided early on to be open about it.
“Obviously there is a regular stigma associated with HIV and AIDS so I use my life as a testimony or example to tell people, if you have it, you can still date, you can still be active in the community, you can still have an exciting life, you can be as normal as anyone else. I hope it helps other people be open. There is life after HIV. It doesn’t have to be a life in secret.”
Gerald, who’s active in the D.C. Center’s HIV Working Group and formerly co-chaired it, urges everyone to be tested. He says even if the result is positive, it’s better than not knowing.
“There’s stuff out there no matter the result,” he says. “Not knowing does you more harm. If you are positive, there are services for help, medication, mental health and other support services.”
Gerald moved to Baltimore for grad school in 2006 then moved to Washington in 2008. He’s single and just started a new job two weeks ago — he says it’s “almost” his dream job — at the American Society for Interior Designers.
He lives in Petworth and enjoys number puzzles, kickball, making sushi and blogging in his spare time. (Blade photos by Michael Key)
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
The hardest person I had to tell that I was gay was my good friend Jennifer but even though I didn’t tell her until I moved away from South Carolina, the timing was what made us closer than ever. The hardest person to tell about my HIV status was my twin brother Kelvin and even till this day he has a hard time talking about “it” or “your medication.” He will come around eventually.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
My hero in the LGBT world isn’t on a global or national level and really isn’t a TV personality, it’s my great friend Kevin Nunley. He is always there for anyone at anytime. If it wasn’t for him, I honestly don’t believe I would be here today. And David Cantania who really needs no explanation, very awesome person!
What is Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
My favorite spot back in the day was Halo, but now Bear Happy Hour at Town, then Cobalt and little Number 9.
Describe your dream wedding.
A barefoot wedding on Kiawah Island, S.C.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Youth aging out of foster care and becoming homeless in D.C. I would love to develop a program that will link this group to employment and educational services beyond a GED (not that it’s a bad thing).
What historical outcome would you change?
I would change the outcome of Hurricane Katrina, if I could change that. I wouldn’t want anyone to die or suffer in that way, not in the United States.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
When A Tribe Called Quest broke up I thought I was going to die. I remember leaving class to get all their albums because we thought they were going to be instant classics. They are to me.
On what do you insist?
That you keep an open and positive frame of thought in every situation, because you ultimately set the tone for your outcomes in life.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Detox time until open bar at JR.’s this Wednesday.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Jack and Coke Please”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I would keep my orientation.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe past this life, I will be able to live free without stigma and judgment.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Can we please stop with all the research facts and get to the human level of all of our problems? Scientific research isn’t going to tell me my why someone really doesn’t want to wear a condom or why they are afraid of getting their HIV test results. Let’s see more community members on your panels and less of the weighty doctors. Although they do great work and continue to contribute a great deal, the guy in the waiting room tells a far different perspective of the epidemic and LGBT rights.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
The chance to marry Gerard Butler, brunch at Masa 14 and the day that all LGBT people can walk into any church and exchange their vows before God, especially the churches I attended in South Carolina.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
The LGBT stereotype that annoys the living hell out of me is how African-American men are always portrayed in the media. We are either “DL” whatever that may be these days, or the loud “HAAY GIRL” and there is so much more to me than that.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Noah’s Arc — Jumping the Broom” (Noah and Carrie Bradshaw … completely exemplify my love life)
What’s the most overrated social custom?
I can’t think of one, but personally I hate all-white parties. Who the hell owns an all white outfit and can you really eat the way you want if you have on all white?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Bronze medal for my work at the EPA. And a teddy bear that my mom gave me in 10th grade after a horrible fight we had.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
To invest in real estate, Apple and know that the first guy you date isn’t going to be your husband.
Why not Washington with all the different cultures, races, backgrounds, etc., mixing and interacting on a daily basis? I have a great career, family that I have made and far more opportunities that I wouldn’t have received elsewhere.