Bill Hall, a member of the Tlingit tribe of Southeastern Alaska, tested positive for HIV in 1986. He became an HIV advocate for the Native American community in the Seattle area, working with the Seattle Indian Health Board, the Urban Indian Health Institute, DefeatHIV and other groups, and serving on several community boards.
So many people were dying, and there just weren’t resources out there to help them. I felt this was an area in desperate need of love and tears.
I began to realize that the reason Native Americans are the most underserved communities with regard to HIV was that nobody from the community was speaking out—and that really bothered me.
God began tugging at my heart to step up and take on the role of advocate. And no matter what excuses I came up with, the tugging never stopped. I was deathly afraid of speaking in front of people. I didn’t know the first thing about being an advocate. I didn’t even know how to learn about it.
I was fortunate enough to be selected by the National Minority AIDS Council to take a 7-day training course for leaders of color. On the last day, they had everybody choose 1 goal for the next year. I thought about my fear of public speaking and set as my goal that I would never say no if somebody asked me to speak at an event. And now you can’t shut me up.
When I was growing up in Alaska, nobody spoke about sex or gays. I’m sure my family knew I was gay, but they never once spoke about it. The Native American community believed that HIV/AIDS was a gay disease, and since it didn’t affect them, they didn’t have to do anything. Native American clinics weren’t offering testing and they weren’t educating people. And now the Seattle Indian Health Board not only offers HIV testing, they also offer treatment, and they have an HIV team that works on developing media to educate Native Americans.
The only way stigma and apathy are going to go away is if we keep talking about it. So I’m going to keep talking.
Join the tens of thousands of subscribers who rely on Global Health NOW summaries and exclusive articles for the latest public health news. Sign up for our free weekday newsletter, and please share the link with friends and colleagues: https://www.globalhealthnow.org/subscribe