HIV/AIDS Awareness and Young People
On Friday, which was also National Youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day, HIV educator Paige Rawl came to Pike High School to speak to students about her life with the disease. Since writing her memoir Positive, which details how she was born HIV-positive and bullied mercilessly for years, and co-starring in a documentary about millennials around the world battling HIV, Rawl has committed herself to bringing HIV/AIDS awareness to young people. She spoke to us about her work with students as well as her involvement with Indiana lawmakers in the wake of the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana’s history.
This is your second time speaking at Pike High School. How does it feel to have been invited back?
It’s really awesome. I mean, what basically keeps me going is hearing that I’ve inspired other kids or given them the courage to share their own stories. So to be invited back to a school or an event … it’s always really awesome to know I made some sort of impact that they wanted me to come back.
What’s your favorite part about these speaking engagements with students?
Just hearing from the kids afterward and seeing and listening to how I’ve impacted them or if I’ve made them want to change something they’re doing or have them get a better, positive outlook on life or anything along those lines. It’s always a good feeling to hear that I’ve made a positive impact on some of the kids.
What’s the biggest message you like students to take away from your talks?
My main message is about bullying and letting people know it’s not right to bully anyone for any reason. Think about what you’re saying before you say it, because you never know how it’s going to affect someone. Also, when it comes to HIV, people still think it’s a death sentence, so I’m getting people educated and letting them know it’s not like that anymore. My HIV status doesn’t define me.
How has reception been for It’s Not Over, the documentary you were featured in, since its debut in December?
It’s been really awesome. I think because of the way Andrew Jenks and the MAC/AIDS fund put together the documentary, it’s not like one of the old, boring documentaries. It’s made hip, and I know a lot of teens and youth and college students have watched it and kind of enjoyed it, and have been able to take away information from it. It’s great to see the message getting across.
What was your reaction to the recent HIV outbreak in Scott County?
I just recently spoke to the House of Representatives trying to finally get a needle-exchange program passed and make it a law in the state of Indiana. It’s definitely something that we haven’t seen before in Indiana. I think it’s just the lack of education. So now, along with the needle-exchange program, if it gets passed, there’s going to be education and free testing and all of these things. It sucks that something like that had to happen, but at least now people are starting to realize it’s still out there.
What do you believe are the benefits of a needle-exchange program?
I think it will definitely reduce the spread of HIV, and I think the way that they’re doing it, it’s going to be a good way because you don’t have to give them your name. So people will still feel comfortable going and they won’t be afraid to come in to exchange the needles. They’re going to be able to get a test and tell somebody else about it and then tell somebody else. I think the best thing about it is it’s getting the word out there.
When you spoke at the Statehouse, how did you feel lawmakers were responding to the proposed law?
At this point, I think it’s a good sense in that they’re understanding this is an outbreak. It’s not going to be just to fix this epidemic that’s going on, but it will help prevent something else from happening later on down the road.
How do you think this outbreak and all the action surrounding it will affect education on HIV?
I think it will definitely help because when the person’s going to get a test, it’s required for them to get education. So for things that are not being taught in school or things that they don’t really know about, it will be some good refreshers to let people know this is how you can contract it, you’re being at risk when this is happening, you need to keep coming back to get a test as long as you’re putting yourself at risk. I think it will definitely help in getting people to understand you’re only going to know if you get that test.