BY Bob Adams
November 20 2009 10:00 AM ET
It's hard to imagine that Philadelphian Robert Breining, founder of the "POZIAM" Internet radio show and related website, was once apprehensive about disclosing his serostatus -- or even acknowledging his HIV infection to himself.
"Since I wasn't on meds, it just didn't sink in," says the 30-year-old, who was diagnosed in 2001. "It took me five years to accept it and to be able to talk about it."
Today, Breining is unabashedly candid about having HIV and all the other intimate details of his life, as are the guests on his radio show. "I want to show everyone that there's so much more to living with HIV than just sickness and death," he says of the weekly broadcasts, which are cohosted by fellow HIVers Jack Mackenroth and Jeromy Dunn.
"POZIAM" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio.com/POZIAM. The social-networking website is found online at POZIAM.com.
A premed class in organic chemistry nearly drove Susan Cohen from a career in the health arena. "I went running away," laughs Cohen, who is director of health education and prevention at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. "But eventually I found my way to public health and, in particular, issues related to sexual health."
As a college graduate in the late 1980s, Cohen also was drawn to the fight against HIV as she witnessed the disease's impact on Los Angeles's gay community. "It was clear to me what was happening was rooted in public health and social justice issues like safer sex, access to clean needles, access to health care, homophobia, and stigma. I felt compelled to help," she explains.
Since 2006, Cohen has spearheaded the L.A. center's HIV prevention outreach, mobile HIV and STD testing services, substance abuse prevention programs, and numerous other health initiatives. In 2007 her department created an ongoing Internet soap opera and interactive website -- called "In the Moment" -- that follows a group of gay men as they deal with issues around safer sex, substance use, Internet hookups, and other timely topics.
"We needed to reach guys where they are going. And today, that's online," Cohen says of the project. "It gives us a unique way to reignite dialogues about HIV, crystal meth, and risky behaviors among gay and bisexual men who might not otherwise be having those conversations."
Unfailingly modest, Julie Davids prefers to call herself "a cog in the machine." This particular cog has been an instrumental force behind efforts to lower antiretroviral drug prices worldwide, to get condoms in Philadelphia jails, to expand access to sterile syringes, to increase opportunities for HIV-positive women in clinical trials, and to reduce bureaucratic red tape in HIV prevention campaigns at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With a résumé already weighted with acronyms -- ACT UP Philadelphia, Philadelphia FIGHT, and Health GAP -- in 2003 she founded the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, or CHAMP, which is busy training the next wave of HIV activist leaders. Davids, who defines herself as a "genderqueer dyke," says she sees her role as "a facilitator and amplifier of people's voices. I'm lucky to be a catalyst for what's already happening."
"You think you scare me? You think you can make me back off? Nothin' scares me!" So said New York state senator Tom Duane to his colleagues in an impassioned 3 a.m. speech this summer that saved what looked like a doomed bill proposing rent caps for indigent New Yorkers with HIV.
The first openly gay and openly HIV-positive New York state senator when he was elected in 1998, Duane has made it his business to protect HIVers from discriminatory legislation and cuts in services. Now, as a member of a (famously razor-thin) majority in the state senate, he's fearlessly on the offense. "I've used my life experience in HIV and LGBT issues," he says. "It really drives my view of the world and how to make the world a better place."