Being an HIV-positive gay man in Venezuela “was like you had a scarlet letter on your forehead,” said Miguel Aguero (SCS ‘11) “The new generation, people under 20, didn’t live through the first cases and the paranoia and the fear. People would say, ‘You’re going to hell and this is your ticket.’”
Aguero’s talk with students Tuesday evening was one of a series of events put on by the Georgetown AIDS Coalition to mark Global AIDS Week. Aguero, 42, came to the United States from Venezuela eight years ago under political asylum after being denied medication from the Venezuelan government when the social security system “disappeared” as a result of President Hugo Chavez’s changes to the constitution.
“They told me I was a burden to the state and that by being a homosexual I was a threat to the national security of the revolution,” Aguero said.
Since learning he was HIV-positive 13 years ago, Aguero has worked with UNICEF in Caracas, the District of Columbia Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs, the International Organization for Migration and La Clinica del Pueblo in D.C. as an AIDS activist focused on the Latino community.
“It’s really courageous for him to share his experience,” Katy Berglund-Schlesinger (SFS ’08), the World AIDS Week Coordinator for the AIDS Coalition, said. “He’s got a lot of great insight. It’s important to demystify AIDS, to let people know you can be [HIV] positive and have a positive life.”
Aguero cited the Catholic emphasis on abstinence and aversion to the use of condoms as major problems for the prevention of the spread of HIV in Latino communities, and criticized the Center for Disease Control for reinforcing these ideas.
“Sex is a physiological necessity but the way we are brought up is not to talk about it,” Aguero said. “Abstinence only? Forget it! You can’t stop a 16 year-old boy with an erection. If the condoms work, they have to be available.”
Claudia Naim (SFS ’08), who organized the event for the Latin American Student Association, felt this lack of emphasis on condom usage extends to Georgetown.
“People think because they’re rich and white and go to Georgetown it can’t touch them,” Naim said. “As a Catholic university there are a lot things Georgetown can’t do in terms of condoms. I think it’s important to have condoms more readily available.”
The GU AIDS Coalition is sponsoring free HIV testing under the Leavey Bridge on Friday. Naim feared that the stigma surrounding HIV testing Aguero spoke of might prevent students from taking advantage of the program.
“People are scared to go get tested,” Naim said. “It’s like he said, they’re afraid someone will see them and ask, ‘What are you doing that makes you think you need to be tested?’”
While Aguero talked about having to take as many as 96 pills a day and having people refuse to fly on the same plane with him, he also credited the disease with motivating him and giving him a purpose. The self-described former “couch potato” said he never dreamt of overcoming a crippled nervous system to run in two AIDS marathons or of becoming an AIDS activist.
“It shook me up and gave me a new perspective,” Aguero said. “The way I treat [the disease] is ‘You are the guy I didn’t invite to dinner, so I get to decide when to give you dessert.’”