Carmaletta Able is a community advocate and peer educator for the U=U Maryland Campaign, and is currently a medical support assistant at the VA Medical Center in Baltimore.
How has the understanding of U=U empowered you?
Every partner I’ve ever had knows my status. I don’t run into the stigma much. They actually respect me more for telling them before anything can transpire. They’re like: “You’re undetectable, you’re ok, I’m not going to get it.”
It was good, knowing that I can’t pass it on to someone else, because that was my main fear, passing it on to someone else. That was so scary. Especially passing it on to my kids. I don’t have kids yet, but now I know for a fact that my child is not going to have it.
Tell us about your journey to sharing your story with others.
Within that first year [after being diagnosed], I told my story in front of high school students. I used to work at YouthWorks. I was the oldest and about to age out. But I told my story. I was a freshman in college at the time. I became a peer educator after that. I would educate people while I was going through college at Morgan.
When I graduated college I did the AIDS Walk and told my story in front of the entire AIDS Walk. Then I went from being a peer educator to a peer navigator at Chase Brexton. If need be, if I felt I needed to tell people my status just to help them through, I would. Because I was testing people for HIV. I went from that to being a case manager, so I was able to help people through whether they were newly diagnosed or trying to get care.
And now, I do HIV one-on-one classes, I tell my story there. So if they have any questions before they get tested, they come in there and we tell our story, how we found out, when we got tested, you know.
I’ve always been this open. It was kind of my way to release it, but I wasn’t really past it. I actually didn’t get past it until this year. So it was a method for me to release. Because a person who is not positive will not understand what a person who is positive is going through. Is it therapeutic? Yes.
So I feel like it’s been a blessing because I get to help other people with whatever they’re going through. But it’s also a curse because it’s something you’ve got to deal with every day.
What do you hope the U=U Campaign will accomplish?
My hope for U=U is that everyone will become educated. People are still blindsided by this. Even the people in my life, the ones I’ve been rejected by, I still educate them just in case they come across someone else who is affected or maybe someone doesn’t tell them their status, so now they know what this means.
We have to make it clear through this campaign that people who consider themselves straight can get this disease. It affects the heterosexual community just as much. It’s no different. I see a lot of same-sex and LGBT pictures in the campaign, but we need more heterosexual imagery. They’re [the hetero community] not going to pay attention to this campaign without it, because they think it’s not for them. They think they’re invincible when it comes to this.
Ultimately, we gotta support one another. People gotta stick together. If you are HIV positive, we understand what we’re going through. It’s not your fault that you’re HIV positive. HIV makes you ashamed of your sexuality. It shouldn’t. It’s ok to say I’m positive and to understand that it doesn’t matter what people think.