“There was just something about Ian Haddock,” states Nathan Maxey, a Houston-area community organizer and nonprofit professional. “I saw it right away when we first met. Ian was a standout.” Yet, nothing about Haddock’s early years or upbringing hinted at the fierce LGBTQ community health activist he has become as the local ambassador for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) national HIV-prevention program.
A Gay Kid Beats the Odds
Haddock was born in Texas City in 1987, and grew up in abject poverty. The youngest of three in a single-parent household, the intelligent, gracious child managed to flourish in school, in church, and in his community.
“I was the first of my siblings to graduate from high school, and was looked at as ‘breaking the generational curse’ for my family,” Haddock recalls. “It was when I came out that everything changed. Suddenly, I went from the hope of my family to another blemish in their lives.”
Haddock’s family gave him a choice: he could “choose not to be gay” and retain his home and family, or he could “choose to be gay” and live on the streets. The young man knew he had no choice. His family threw him out.
“From then on, I was a fully out queer,” Haddock says. “I was out through high school, and I was homeless. As a young, Black gay man, I have experienced homophobia, racism, trauma, prostitution, and many of the other conditions that are pervasive in America. Something inside me, though, pushed me to turn those experiences into reflection. I think it was me being the hero to my 15-year-old self; it’s the piece—and peace—of God that lives in me that keeps me going.
“Still, it wasn’t until I was about 20 years old that I heard anything about HIV or the AIDS epidemic,” Haddock admits, reflecting on that shocking fact. “I was fully sexually active and knew nothing at all.”
At about this time, the young man crossed paths with Nathan Maxey, who was working with HIV-positive people in Houston. Haddock soon identified the compassionate Maxey as his “father of choice.”
“Ian was bright and full of potential, but he also seemed lost,” Maxey recalls. “I took him under my wing. When I shared my HIV diagnosis with Ian, it sparked an aspiration in him to help. That ambition continues to this day.”
“Meeting Nathan was a turning point for me,” Haddock emphasizes. “It was when he told me he was HIV-positive that I first learned about it. After that, the more knowledge I acquired, the more I knew I had to do something,” Haddock says.
Becoming an HIV Educator
“My involvement in public health and the LGBTQ community happened by chance. As a sex worker, I routinely used community organizations to get checked for STIs and HIV. It’s only by the grace of God and some really good luck that I am not HIV-positive. I have taken every risk possible. I have done it all,” he says.
Haddock also knew from experience that there was a deep void in the public’s knowledge of HIV. To address it, Haddock launched The Normal Anomaly Initiative in 2016, a simple blog site dedicated to topics relative to the Black queer community. The website soon received over one million hits.
As the Normal Anomaly Initiative gained steam, the CDC took notice of Haddock. When the CDC announced its new Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign (formerly known as Act Against AIDS), the organization asked Haddock to apply as an ambassador for the Houston area.
The national CDC campaign involves resources and partnerships aimed at easing HIV stigma and promoting testing, prevention, and treatment. The remarkable effort empowers communities, partners on the ground, and healthcare providers to reduce stigma and prevent HIV among the hardest-hit populations.
After several interviews, the CDC officially asked Haddock to become a 2020 Let’s Stop HIV Together ambassador—one of only 20 such ambassadors throughout the U.S. Ambassadors are community leaders who support the campaign by disseminating HIV messaging, materials, and other CDC resources in the cities most heavily affected by HIV, according to the CDC’s website.
An Agent for Change
Haddock is charged with speaking to the local media outlets regarding HIV. He also engages in public speaking, community organizing, resource-sharing, and activism.
It’s an uphill slog. Despite the wonderful, life-saving advances in treatment, many people still do not understand the first thing about HIV. For every seven people who are HIV-positive, one does not even know they are infected.
HIV-related stigma plays a significant role in the grim statistics. Stigma refers to the destructive beliefs and attitudes toward people living with HIV, their families, HIV service providers, and members of groups that have been heavily impacted by HIV, such as gay and bisexual men, transgender people, the homeless, street youth, and the mentally ill. Stigma and discrimination are the biggest stumbling blocks to the CDC’s goal of wiping out HIV by 2030.
HIV-related discrimination affects the emotional well-being and mental health of people living with HIV. People often internalize shame, and fear that they will be judged negatively if their HIV status is revealed.
W. Jeffrey Campbell, the chief program officer at AIDS Foundation Houston, shares this view. “I’ve been in the field of HIV prevention for almost two decades,” Campbell states. “I’m excited to know that science has given us progressive prevention and treatment methods that are getting us closer to ending the HIV epidemic. One of the final barriers to ending this epidemic is stigma. CDC’s new Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign addresses the issue of stigma head-on. This gets us even closer to our goal.”
Haddock points out that communities of color are bearing the greatest burden of HIV. His assignment as a CDC ambassador is opening doors in that regard.
“The CDC says that in 2018, Black people accounted for 42 percent of new HIV diagnoses, and Latinx people accounted for 27 percent of new HIV diagnoses. One of the best ways to meet these populations is in their churches,” Haddock explains firmly.
Haddock approaches these faith communities with the same empathy, grace, and tenacity that makes him so good at what he does. “We talk with these groups specifically about the intersection of HIV with racial and social justice, and not about sexuality. We’ve found that it is an easier route to begin conversation without the sexual component.
“We then offer them [opportunities to get tested for] HIV, often during the services. It’s been a tedious process, but we are making some movement. We are removing the stumbling blocks, one at a time!” Haddock concludes.
This article appears in the February 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.