Teen Voices of AIDS

As the Epidemic Continues, Some Young Victims Begin to Speak Up

"Too many young people are frightened to talk about their own HIV," says Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro TeenAIDS. Here, Lydia Robinson, a former Metro TeenAIDS peer educator, lights a candle at a vigil protesting cuts in funding for local groups serving adolescents. (Metro Teenaids)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008; Page HE01

"The other swans laugh and call me names for I have HIV"--Travis

For nearly a quarter-century they have come to the first floor of Children's Hospital: teenagers infected through circumstances, always tragic, or through choices, admittedly bad ones. More than 30 new cases in 2007 alone, as the epidemic that is HIV and AIDS extended its reach through a second generation of adolescents.

Fears of ostracism have kept them largely silent elsewhere. As patients, however, they've been urged to talk. Not just about their pasts, but about living and dying and coping with the possibilities of both.

Encouragement was all they needed.

"Before I told anyone, I felt like I was in a box," one teen says. "I couldn't sleep. I was like, 'Who can I tell?' "

"I went to school and no one wanted to learn anything," a girl recounts. "It was, 'She's got AIDS, don't touch her.' "

"I believe that I am going to live a long life," another allows. "I believe I have a purpose, and the purpose is to help youth do something."

These are the voices that psychologist Maureen Lyon and physician Lawrence D'Angelo have woven into "Teenagers, HIV, and AIDS," perhaps the first text on the subject to place young people, in prose and even poetry, alongside the experts. It is a true collaboration, one that gets and gives plain-talk advice.

Most of all, says Adam Tenner, executive director of the local advocacy group Metro TeenAIDS, it is a book that helps "bear witness."

"Too many young people are frightened to talk about their own HIV, or the HIV of their friends," Tenner says. "One of our biggest obstacles to healing our communities is getting rid of the stigma."

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Lyon and D'Angelo explained their rationale in the book's dedication, a tribute to the more than 400 HIV-positive patients for whom they and others on the Children's staff have cared.

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