Asserting yourself when you’re gay, Latino, and HIV positive


Artist Joey Terrill grew up in a proud Mexican-American home in Los Angeles, where his family instilled in him that he should be proud of his culture. When he learned he was diagnosed with HIV he took those same lessons and decided he was still deserving of respect.

Terrill says being Mexican American he recognized very early on and that he was different and that there was a “prejudicial attitude towards Chicanos and Mexicans in L.A.”

“So asserting myself and my identity ethnically for me naturally segued into asserting my validation with my orientation,” Terrill says in a profile piece released by MSNBC in partnership with the non-profit group It Gets Better Project, whose mission it is to remind LGBT youth that life gets better.

Terrill recreates images of his own life and activism in his art. He paints his friends, lovers, and the hardships that come with that sometimes. He’s widely recognized for his “Still Life” series in which he paints familiar domestic spaces, like a kitchen table with HIV drugs alongside mainstream consumer products.

Terrill was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s at a time when the country knew little about the disease. At the time Terrill says he taught HIV only affected white men. He says he “learned very quickly” that wasn’t the case.

“The support that I got from the communities did instill in me this confidence about asserting who I am,” Terrill said.

More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV. Young men between the age of 13 to 24 who have sex with men saw the highest rate of new HIV infections, according 2010 data, the latest statistics from the Center for Disease Control.

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