Two Black Gay Men Are Sharing Their HIV Journey On Billboards Across Atlanta
High above Goodfellas Pizza at the intersection of Spring Street and North Avenue in Midtown, stands a billboard featuring Jeremy Roberts, 31, accompanied by the words: “I Wouldn’t Be Here Without Grady.” Atlantans will instantly recognize the billboard as an ad for Grady Hospital, a long-standing health care institution that for decades has served Atlanta’s African-American community, including those who are uninsured, underinsured, and or living with HIV. Behind the smile and confidence that Roberts displays for thousands of commuters each day, is a story of a man living and thriving with HIV despite initially having his status weaponized against him.
Roberts tells The Reckoning that a failed offline encounter via the gay dating app “Jack’d” led him on the path towards personal and public disclosure, which gave him the courage to take control of his own narrative.
“This person that I was conversing with, of course, I told my status to thinking I was about to have sex with him,” said Roberts. “That hookup never happened. The next morning I received screenshots of the conversation that I had on Jack’d from the guy that I was dating. He said, ‘you were talking to my ex.’ He sent me these screenshots, and not only did he send them to me but he sent them to a bunch of his friends,” he said. “As crazy as it was, that was the moment that I realized that I had no control over my status. Anybody that knew my status had complete control over me and my life.”
Roberts says it was at that moment that he decided that he had to tell the most important people in his life—his immediate family. He did so after making several trips to the hospital for flu-like symptoms in 2013. It was during one of these visits that he says the idea of being tested for HIV was placed on the table.
“I got sick and had to go to the hospital again,” he said. “That was the very first time that a doctor asked me if I’d been tested for HIV. And I was offended [laughter]. What do you mean? Why would I need to be?”
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