"Life Gives Me Hope." Rev. Elder Claude Bowen on HIV

“My anger and frustration have been replaced with hope, self-respect and love.”
Sep 18, 2019 11:00 AM ET

Claude Bowen is a Reverend based in Atlanta, Georgia, who has been involved with HIV advocacy for over 35 years. He works with THRIVE SS and found his purpose in service and in educating others on HIV infection, transmission, prevention, and care. In addition to facilitating THRIVE’s emotional wellness group and being one of the authors of THRIVE’s homegrown intervention for Black gay men living with HIV over the age of 50, “The Silver Lining Project,” Claude is an avid performer and member of THRIVE SS’ “Clever Collective” of poets, singers and performers.

When did you find out you were HIV positive? How has your HIV status impacted your life?
When I was diagnosed in 1986, the impact in the beginning was very bleak. I was told I would not see the age of 45. At the age of 72, I look back and realize that my quality of life went from harming myself with self­-destructive behavior to one of purpose and service. My anger and frustration have been replaced with hope, self­-respect and love. 

Where have you gotten support to manage your HIV treatment? 
My support comes from a small network of lifelong friends, family and the brothers of THRIVE SS. 

How long have you been involved in HIV advocacy? 
I’ve been an advocate for 35 plus years. 

Do you think there is an added stigma being a person from a racially marginalized community living with HIV, and if so, how do you handle it?
The stigma of today is steeped in the ignorance of yesterday. Education efforts must be continuous, and I take every opportunity to teach people lessons on HIV infection, transmission, prevention, and care. 

Do you feel that you face additional challenges in care as a member of a racially marginalized community living with HIV?
Being open about my status as a member of the LBGTQ+ community of African descent makes addressing the stigma complex because my own community often treats me differently. The indifference infused with ignorance can be overwhelming at times, but I affirm my authentic self daily and move forward.

How would you support someone who recently received a positive HIV diagnosis? 
As an advocate, I try to make myself available to all my brothers and sisters by standing with them and guiding them in any way possible, either by making referrals or just providing a shoulder for them to lean on. Just being available sometimes has a great impact. 

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
If I could have a conversation with my younger self, I would tell myself to stop making excuses or stop giving explanations for being who I am. I’d also encourage myself to be more mindful of unhealthy behaviors and avoid negative energy or people because that stress is dangerous. 

What gives you hope?
Life gives me hope. I embrace each day as if it is all I have and live to the fullest.

Ending the HIV epidemic — and improving and extending the lives of those living with HIV — has been Gilead’s mission for more than 30 years. Through the HIV Age Positively initiative, we aim to shine a bright new light on individuals aging with HIV: the challenges they face, the resources they need and the support they deserve. Read more of their stories here.