HIV-Positive Blogger Aims to Inspire, Spread Hope

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By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shawn Decker is living with HIV, not dying from it.

Twenty-three years after doctors diagnosed the virus in him, 34-year-old Decker stands at the forefront of the battle to eliminate the stereotypes and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

On Oct. 3, he will receive the Whitman-Walker Clinic's Courage Award at the opening ceremony of the District's 23rd annual AIDS Walk.

Decker and his wife, Gwenn Barringer, 34, have gained national recognition as bloggers, authors and motivational speakers.

"When I was scared, I didn't talk about HIV for 10 years," said Decker, of Charlottesville. "When I stopped being scared, I opened up and took the steps to live my life."

That courage caught the attention of Whitman-Walker, a health care clinic that treats people with HIV/AIDS, as well as the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

"It's an important message to get across that even if you have this disease, there's still hope for a long and happy life," said Chip Lewis, a Whitman-Walker spokesman.

Decker is doing just that.

A columnist for the HIV/AIDS magazine POZ, Decker published his memoir in 2006, "My Pet Virus: The True Story of a Rebel Without a Cure."

He and his wife operate a Web site,, called "A Boy, a Girl, a Virus and the Relationship That Happened Anyway."

"I don't feel particularly courageous," Decker said in a phone interview from his Virginia home. "But when I think about the scared little kid who didn't know what to do and thought HIV was a death notice, I think back to those times when I had to dig down deep and reflect."

Decker, who grew up in Waynesboro, Va., suffers from hemophilia, a hereditary disorder in which his blood doesn't clot properly. He said that as a child, he often received two to three shots of blood products, a cocktail made from blood donations, a week to keep him from bleeding too much after sustaining a nose bleed or a bruise while playing.

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