When she was 15, Ieshia Scott found out she was born with HIV. Learning about her status wasn't easy. She struggled with depression, and she wanted to escape being labeled as "the girl with HIV" in her community. Now, more than 10 years later, Ieshia talks openly about living with HIV, HIV prevention, and what she has learned along the way about relationships and self-love.
In honor of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day — celebrated March 10 — Ieshia talks about what it's like growing up with HIV. She also shares what she thinks all girls should know about healthy relationships and HIV and AIDS.
How old are you?
I just turned 26.
Will you tell us about how you learned you were born with HIV?
I found out I was HIV-positive at 15. I was attending Camp Hope, a week-long summer camp for children 7 through 16 who are living with HIV. Only, I didn't know that when I went.
I was in an administrator's office when I found out. I saw a board with the different camp weeks listed on it. Next to my week, it read "HIV." I immediately excused myself to find my doctor, Dr. Ana Puga, who was at camp, to ask her about it. Dr. Puga is like a second mother to me. I have been her patient my entire life.
The counselors called my grandma to tell her what happened, and she told them to tell me. I remember my doctor drawing on the medical bed, showing me what HIV does to my body. I was so afraid. I remember just being sad but having so much clarity. It suddenly made sense why I had to take medicine. It wasn't for sickle cell disease like I thought it was. My Camp Hope counselors, administrators, and even my campmates were so loving and reassuring. It made the discovery a little easier. I'll never forget it.
Can you talk a little bit about your experience sharing your status with others?
I never really liked telling people who were not closely affected by my status. Honestly, my family and friends would share the news for me.
As I've grown up, my outlook on life, on people, on love has changed. Growing up has made sharing my status with others a lot easier. When you're so free in your truths, it's like breaking all the chains. It's liberating.
How did learning your status affect you growing up?
At first, it was hard for me. At times, I suffered from severe depression and had thoughts of suicide. It was hard being "the girl with HIV" in my city. Mentally, I had to create another name and be somebody else, not "the girl with HIV." I would tell my sexual partners, but when it came to other people, I felt my business didn't concern them. Yet, where I grew up, it seems like your business belongs to everyone.
No one will ever know how hard it really was for me. There are a lot of things I don't say and keep to myself. I thank God every day for freeing me and giving me the courage to be me. It truly changed me and my respect for life.
What's your advice for HIV-positive youth who want to date?
You have to tell your sexual partner your status. Here's what I've learned: If I'm not ready to share my status with you, I have no reason to lie down with you. If I am not confident enough to bare my truths to you, I have no business sharing my body with you.
Our bodies are temples — HIV-positive or not. We are still a prize. We are still worthy of greatness. If you are afraid that this person will share your status with others, they're not worth your time. Our time, our love, our minds are all invaluable, so we have to find like-minded people. That goes beyond HIV. That's for anyone who is dating.
When you find that person who is open-minded, willing to be educated, mature, etc., it'll be second nature to tell them your status. That'll be the person that you're supposed to be with, not someone you're afraid to be true to yourself for.
Can you talk about healthy relationships and/or the importance of safe sex?
As my motto goes when it comes to HIV, "let's keep the negative, negative, and the positive, healthy." I created that saying, and for me, it has everything to do with the importance of safe sex and healthy relationships. HIV is preventable.
It's important to do couples testing. I think you have to assume people will be human. We make mistakes, and some people may choose to lie about their status. For those reasons, I think it is important that you get tested together and that you always use protection. Be aware of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases [STDs, also known as STIs]. Everything else that I've said in this interview about relationships falls under this question as well. You can't have a healthy relationship without all that other stuff. Trust me, I know.
As an HIV and AIDS advocate, what do you do to educate others?
I'm a motivational speaker, and I educate people about HIV online. I speak out about HIV prevention wherever I am. I am always informing and educating others. I personally call it "empowering" instead of just educating. When I am done speaking to people about HIV, I feel I have empowered them. I get about 10 to 20 messages a day, so I also do some mentoring.
I recently became a member of the Community Advisory Board for The Well Project. I love what I do, bringing awareness to women who are infected and affected by HIV, because it affects all humans.
What do you think girls need to know about HIV and AIDS?
HIV can happen to anyone. As a woman, you have the choice to carry and use protection. Just always be aware of your risks and try to avoid them. Never trust what someone shows or tells you about their HIV status. Insist on couples testing, continuously. Sadly, I think it's even important in "monogamous" relationships.
What can other girls do to help end the stigma around HIV and AIDS?
Be educated, aware, and responsible. Don't be afraid to talk about HIV or AIDS. Tell your friends and family. Be sure they are aware, because knowledge stops stigma.
What's your advice for others living with HIV?
Find peace within yourself and live in it. You don't have to be an advocate. You don't have to tell everyone your status. You just have to tell your sexual partners — BEFORE SEX! Live and enjoy your life, because life only stops or changes with your permission. HIV changes your routine and the way you think. It makes you wiser. The moment you realize you control your outlook on life, the better your outlook will be. You can still hang out, vacation, and enjoy stolen kisses and romantic moments. Don't allow HIV to stop you from achieving greatness and living your life.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Content last reviewed March 03, 2016
Page last updated March 03, 2016