Hivster magazine founder opens up about his experiences and project to help those who deal with HIV and AIDS
For Hivster magazine founder Brad Crelia, being diagnosed HIV+ was originally his greatest fear.
“It is a very devastating thing to find out you have a disease that could potentially kill you,” Crelia says.
In 2003, Crelia stared his greatest fear in the face: He was diagnosed HIV+. His first instinct was to panic. But due to much-needed support from his friend Jesse Kendall, he decided to find a way to push through.
The two friends wanted to not only help Crelia, but to make an impact on the rest of their community as well. “We scoured the Internet looking for a website or a resource…something that would really speak to young, alternative urban youth that would support people affected by HIV and AIDS,” Crelia says.
Nothing seemed to fit, and so the two decided to create the resources themselves. A mere six months after his diagnosis, Crelia created Hivster. “We wanted to create a website that focused on the aspects of life that affect urban youth: music, fashion, culture, politics. We have a little bit of everything,” he says.
The diagnosis wasn’t the only thing that started Hivster—in fact, what really set off the spark was altogether something else. In 2003, Crelia lost his mother. To get through such a terrible blow, especially at such a young age, he got his mother’s initials tattooed on his left wrist. After his diagnosis with HIV, Crelia added the outline of a plus sign on his right wrist. This method of coping with his pain led him to write an article for Butt,an alternative gay magazine, entitled “The Tattoo” (which can still be read on Hivster).
The article discusses the intense feelings he experienced throughout the process of discovering his diagnosis. The doctor called him saying he “needed to talk.” The fear, the dread. The eruption of tumultuous emotion when he heard the words “HIV positive” for the first time. His article highlights his initial reaction and how he decided to cope with it and move on. He realized HIV wasn’t the end of the line and that he could still live—he just had to make the choice to survive. The article was the first of its kind to be published in Butt magazine, receiving thousands of views. Comment after comment expressed support for Crelia and spoke messages of hope for other readers and those who were also coping with HIV.
In addition to providing a resource for urban youth, Hivster has other aspirations as well. “One thing Hivster wants to encourage is being open and not being afraid to talk about your status,” he says. Crelia emphasizes how hard it was for him to admit that he had the disease. To him, part of coping with HIV is developing the courage to admit the diagnosis and then conquer the disease.
Hivster stands out from other resources because of its access to celebrities and prominent figures in today’s culture. “We’ve been lucky to get to talk to a lot of influential people and have them share their stories about their friends, families, or even themselves,” he says. “We hope to help those who just find out about their diagnoses to find help.”
One semi-celeb, Project Runway season four contestant, Jack Mackenroth, spoke to Hivster about his dedication to promoting HIV education and helping those affected to cope with the disease. Mackenroth’s interview with Crelia shows that HIV doesn’t have to break a person: One can conquer it and continue to be involved in everyday life.
With time, the outlook for the AIDS epidemic has become more encouraging. “With most people these days, if you stay on your medication and do positive things—keep your spirits high—the disease is something that is very manageable,” says Crelia. “It becomes something that is less physical and more emotional.”
Hivster has also encouraged change in other ways. For the past 22 years, people with HIV and AIDS weren’t allowed to travel or immigrate due to inaccurate fears of infection; however, due to action taken by Hivster and other activists in 2009, President Barack Obama removed this law, allowing those affected by the disease to travel, just the same as everyone else. “We are in a lot better spot than we were in the beginning of the epidemic,” Crelia says.
Despite these steps forward, some stigmas about the disease still remain. Crelia says that today, gay men still can’t donate blood, and someone can be registered as a sex offender, arrested, and charged with an upwards of 30 years in jail just for being HIV+.
“There are still some very, very heavy issues that need to be dealt with,” he says. “But you know, people are talking about it, and I think we are making progress.”