This article was written by a friend of mine Nicholas Snow for the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News this past June. View the original post.
HIV/AIDS cyber-activist empowers thousands
On his Facebook page, 31-year-old, openly-HIV positive Robert Breining explains that he is a "Positive Person with a Purpose."
His goal is “to help people living with HIV/AIDS discover similarities in each other, and form friendships. I want to ease the shock of a diagnosis and remind people ‘our dreams are not infected.’”
This self-described “HIV/AIDS cyber-activist” created POZIAM.com, a social network serving as “a supportive, educational, non-sexual online community” for its 1,732 members (and counting), and he founded and co-hosts a weekly internet radio show and podcast, also called POZIAM.
Robert, who was raised in northeast Philadelphia, explained during our exclusive interview, “I grew up with both parents and an older and younger sister. I was the middle child. We were raised Catholic. My parents were always very supportive of their children.”
“I knew I was different ever since I was a little tyke,” he continued. “I remember being in first grade and making friends with the boys I thought were cute. I was 17 years old when I told my family I was gay. My parents may not have agreed with my sexuality at first but they always supported my decisions and me. They only wanted to protect me from judgmental people. My overall family has always been supportive as well. I had a gay cousin so I wasn't a unicorn when it comes to being gay. Most of my friends have always and continue to be there for me as life goes on.”
As to when he learned he is HIV positive, Robert explained, “I always had random tests done. I was diagnosed in June 2001, six months after my father passed away and nine months after I got clean off of drugs. It was the toughest and darkest time in my life. I have learned that during those difficult times is when we grow the most. Since my counts were good, I was in denial of my HIV status for 5 years.”
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘I have no degree, I can't afford to go back to school, so what can I do that I can't screw up?’ Then it hit me to share my story of living with HIV/AIDS. Then one day I Googled my name ‘Bob’ and HIV/AIDS. I was shocked when I discovered Da Pirate Bob Bowers at OneToughPirate.com."
"I was inspired by his work and it let me see that there is more to HIV then a diagnosis and dying. He was the first person I reached out to that was HIV positive. After losing my father I found it somewhat difficult to move forward but when I discovered Bob Bowers I felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders. Bob is my mentor and someone who I aspire to be like. His courage and his will to live was shown through his website and made me realize there is more to life with HIV.”
“One day I was sitting online and realized when I would join a site for people living with HIV/AIDS it was always some form of dating website,” Robert explained. “For people like me who are in a relationship those sites are not safe. I would log on for support and feel like a piece of meat. I found a lot of support on Myspace and Facebook and then had the idea of creating a social network for people who are living with HIV/AIDS—one that was based around support and friendship.”
“I launched the POZIAM network in October of 2007,” he continued. “I wore a POZIAM T-shirt on the 2007 Philly AIDS WALK. It was my first AIDS walk. I have walked in everyone since. I think the growth and success of POZIAM is due to the members who join and want to get involved. I don't spend money on advertising because I can't afford it. Members spreading the word about POZIAM have been a powerful tool. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth.”
Robert has also been featured in HIV Plus Magazine and he did an HIV+ME interview for LogoTV.com which also helped spread the word of his online community, which he explained “is an assortment of family, friends, newbie's and long-term survivors, specifically founded to benefit both those infected and affected. POZIAM has a great balance of members some come here to learn, while others come here to share.”
Robert stressed, “There is no greater feeling than being comforted by someone who has experienced a HIV/AIDS diagnosis, or discovering you have helped someone realize that their journey is not one they need to take alone. Paths cross for many different reasons, the diversity of over 1700 members in over 50 countries makes POZIAM an interesting place to find support and begin moving forward after a diagnosis. POZIAM offers a safe place to ask questions, share experiences, find support and build new friendships…”
As for the radio show, Robert elaborated, “When I first launched the POZIAM network I noticed people would join but the site was not very active. I needed something that would bring the members back to the site. I had the idea of hosting a radio show on topics surrounding HIV/AIDS. I noticed that the voice of people living with HIV/AIDS has been taken away from the public eye. I don't ever see billboards or television promoting awareness. I wanted to give the voice back to the community. I premiered POZIAM radio August of 2008. It has been on air for close to two years. People can listen to POZIAM radio live every Sunday at 9pm EST at blogtalkradio.com/poziam.”
The archive is also available at iTunes where it has been downloaded and listened to over 29,000 times.
Robert has been lucky in love. He explained about his partner, “We first met about nine years ago but we were both in other relationships. Four years later we crossed paths again in a club in Philly on Mother's Day. It was love at first sight. I told him I was HIV positive on the dance floor that night and we have been together ever since. He is HIV negative and understands that love is something more powerful then HIV. He has truly been a blessing in my life.”
I asked Robert what was most rewarding to him about his volunteerism. He responded, “Laying my head down every night on my pillow knowing that I am helping others by sharing my story.” He is able to devote a significant amount of his time and energy on his activism because of the practical support of my amazing partner.”
“What I value most in my life today are the friendships I have formed since going public with my status,” Robert shared. “I have friends now that understand what I am going through and what I feel. I also value my HIV status because if I weren’t diagnosed HIV positive I would probably be in jail or dead. My status has allowed me to grow as an individual and take responsibility for my own actions and my own life's message.”
“Listening to long-term survivors speak and share their story gives me the courage to proceed with this work. Knowing that someone could possibly feel less alone after hearing my story keeps pushing me forward in the fight.” He concluded, “My dreams are to live a life that is selfless. I would love to produce a TV show that offers people living with HIV/AIDS hope.”