By Marene Gustin
Come Sunday, March 5, some 10,000 people are expected to gather downtown at the Sam Houston Park for AIDS Foundation Houston’s 28th annual walk. The 5K walk, and accompanying festival, is the largest fundraiser for the organization that supports almost 30,000 Houstonians living with HIV/AIDS. The monies raised—this year’s goal is $500,000—will go to 10 area service charities.
Besides the walk, there will be live entertainment, some great food trucks, and booths from the walk’s sponsors. More than just raising money, this event is also about raising awareness and educating the public about HIV/AIDS.
Which is exactly the focus of Tiffany Quinton’s life. A vibrant, beautiful African-American woman, it’s hard to imagine that she retired on medical disability in 2009 when she weighed less than 100 pounds. She has struggled with HIV for 22 years now, but she’s doing better than ever.
The native Texan’s journey began in September of 1995, when she was 26 years old and her baby boy was just nine months old. She had ended a relationship and just began dating a new man. But then the phone rang, and her life changed forever.
“It was the day after Labor Day,” she remembers. “The health department called and said I needed to be tested for an STD.”
When the health worker called her in for the results, Quinton was shocked.
“She told me I was HIV positive and that I was going to die,” says Quinton. “She also told me I was the first person she had to tell they were positive. It just threw me into a tizzy.”
Clearly she didn’t have a lot of experience at delivering such news, but Quinton took it on face value. She went home to tell her mother and grandmother, she started on a drug regimen, and worried about her son growing up without her. She also confronted her former boyfriend who, she says, “denied it, until he died from it.” And she had to tell the new man in her life. She says he took it fairly well, but they did eventually break up. (SPOILER ALERT: In 2011 they met up again, and today they are engaged to be married.)
But with a certain stigma still attached to HIV/AIDS at the time, Quinton didn’t tell too many people about her diagnosis. In fact it wasn’t until 2012 that she started telling her girlfriends and then more and more people. The next year AIDS Foundation Houston asked her to do a speaking engagement, and she hasn’t looked back since.
“I do about three or four speaking engagements a year,” she says. “If I didn’t bring awareness to this dreadful disease, I’m just as guilty as the man who gave it to me.”
Quinton also serves as a counselor at Camp Hope, the AIDS Foundation Houston’s weeklong camp for children seven to 16 living with HIV/AIDS. The camp combines fun outdoor activities with lessons in how to manage their condition, medications, and life skills for disclosing their status.
And, of course, Quinton will be walking on March 5. She’s organized a team every year since 2012.
“It’s been a journey,” she says. “But without the disease I wouldn’t have been able to touch so many lives. This happened to me—what was I going to do? When you have been handed lemons, you make lemonade, and then you share the lemonade with others.
“My advice to others dealing with this is to surround yourself with positive people. I pray every morning and read my daily devotional and just stay positive. Right now my health is pretty good, so I just keep moving. Get up and do whatever it is you can do.”
What: 28th annual AIDS Walk Houston
When: March 5, 12 p.m. Registration at 1 p.m. Walk begins at 2 p.m. Post-walk festivities
Where: Sam Houston Park, 1000 Bagby St.
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.