HIV activist William Brawner speaks out.
"I feel like other people get strength from my story when they hear it," he says, "especially positive people. I try to be the role model I wish I had."
As more people found out, he warned his wife of the consequences.
"Which of his ex-girlfriends would have a boyfriend who was going to try to shoot him?" Carter says. "Whose dad was going to want to beat him up because he had sex with their little girl?"
In 2006 Brawner went on Philadelphia radio's 100.3 The Beat and told his story. He says the decision to do so wasn't about becoming famous or being a martyr for the cause. It was about reaching out to people like himself.
"Martyrs are owed something," he says. "I'm not owed shit."
After the show, rumors began to circulate that he'd infected partners. An anonymous MySpace page was launched telling visitors he was still having sex and not telling partners his status.
But the majority of the responses he received were supportive.
"He even had people who he did have relationships with in the past who contacted him and said, 'What you did was wrong, but I respect the fact that you're coming out and owning up to it now,'" says his wife.
Brawner says none of his sexual partners has contacted him to tell him they're HIV-positive.
"The people that had the potential of being infected by me I've communicated with--with the exception of one person," he says. "And that one person--from what I'm told--is living happily in Atlanta with her family."
Brawner was already planning his youth center when he started working as a youth outreach coordinator at St. Christopher's Hospital last year.
He had plenty of contacts. His participation in events in the HIV/AIDS community had etched his name in the hearts and minds of many leaders: State Sen. Vincent Hughes, Rev. Dr. Alyn Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, the AIDS Law Project's executive director Ronda Goldfein, and Siloam's co-founder Sister Bernadette Kinniry.
"Everybody goes through adolescence feeling different and isolated. To have [HIV] to deal with on top of it shows huge character to be where he is now," says Goldfein.
Brawner's story began getting play in the media. He was showcased on buses dressed in a white suit and white sunglasses for an international HIV/AIDS campaign, and he was featured in an MTV documentary for the 25th anniversary of the disease's first diagnosis.
He wrote a business plan for the center he wanted to open. He wanted a building that wouldn't stand out as an HIV facility--that would look anonymous--which is why he decided on the warehouse on East Allegheny Ave.
But grants he'd hoped for fell through, and he began to wonder if there'd be enough money to open the center. He and his wife were able to live comfortably in suburban Delaware County with the help of income from two rental properties, but he didn't have enough of his own money to open HAVEN.
"It was like, 'Which one of us is going to sell their soul first and go big corporate or jump to the pharmaceutical companies?'" says Carter, laughing. "But when you do what God wants, you're covered."
Finally, Brawner received a grant for $10,000 from a pharmaceutical company he prefers not to name.
More than a few voices caution that in the decade-plus since effective antiretroviral meds have transformed HIV infection from a death sentence into a chronic but manageable infection, too many people have lost their fear of the virus.
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