Tyler Curry has a smile that radiates life and a body to match. He’s healthy, happy and seems, for the most part, carefree.
You wouldn’t think the gay 30-year-old deals with any difficult life struggles, and if you asked him, he would probably tell you he doesn’t. He might share with you that he sometimes deals with hateful responses to his editorials or that it’s sometimes difficult to remember to take a pill every morning, but he will also explain to you that the hateful responses inspire him to create new discussions and that having to take a pill is nothing compared to the ways he’s been able to help people because of his acceptance of his own HIV status.
Curry, the HIV activist who started The Needle Prick Project, has learned to embrace himself and live life to the fullest and is helping others realize that their lives don’t need to be over because of HIV either.
Curry reacted to his HIV diagnoses like most others would; he recalls being shocked and terrified to tell his family.
“I think that I was kind of in the same bubble that a lot of other people in that at-risk case range, like early twenties, are in, when they think as long as they’re not hooking up all the time and using condoms and not sleeping around, they’re safe,” Curry said.
Curry kept the secret for a long time, but then slowly began to tell his friends. He began by telling his boyfriend at the time, who had also been diagnosed with HIV. With the support he received from his boyfriend, he told his sister and began to tell more of his families and his friends. Something changed after that.
“Once I started talking about it, I got really angry and decided to come out publicly, and I came out in the Huffington Post. That would be my first essay,” Curry said. “The positive feedback was overwhelming because I didn’t expect it. I didn’t even think I would publish it; I was a marketing writer. I wrote the first thing and because of how many positive and negative people responded, I kept writing more.”
Curry became inspired by the positive responses to create the Needle Pick Project, and the negative replies motivated him to keep writing as he hoped his message would change the minds of those around him.
The Needle Prick Project is an editorial and visual campaign in which every week, Curry profiles someone who has been diagnosed with HIV or has an experience with it and shares their story and then features photos which he said act as pledges for people “to have a conversation about HIV awareness, stigma and testing.”
“I remember several [responses] that inspired me to start The Needle Prick, and those were these young men who had been HIV positive for three or four years and had not told anyone. They still looked at themselves as used-up and trashed. They had such bad self-esteem, and the fact that the column I wrote made them feel they had worth and could be happy, that was probably the biggest catalyst to continue writing,” Curry said. “I wrote three pieces as a series, and then I started a profile series. People seemed like they wanted to participate in some kind of forum or dialogue; a photo campaign was the most natural thing to encourage or create that.”
Curry saw immediate positive responses to the project. It gave people more opportunities to engage in discussions that make a difference and more opportunities for people to think of HIV as not just an after-thought that can impact their life.
“I think the HIV is a virus of human condition,” Curry said. “It really is called an STD, but it really is about human interaction and human flaws and human nature. Unfortunately so many people view it as a moral STD. If you keep viewing it that way, you’ll continue to push this battle up hill.”
While Curry might once have believed that he was a lesser person for contracting the virus, his views have changed greatly.
When asked what message he’d give his recently diagnosed self if he could go back in time, he responded with, “I think I would just laugh. I was freaking out so much and panicking and just now, it’s just like, ‘Dude, chill out. It’s going to be fine.’ If I had seen me the day of or the next day of, I would be like, you got this.”
Curry views the entire experience he’s had after getting diagnosed as a positive one.
“It’s not about being diagnosed,” Curry said. “It’s about being public with HIV that has created such a positive outcome. I have met wonderful people, activists that have been doing this kind of work for years; they were my mentors. I worked at a summer camp for people with HIV. To really connect with this community that has been stigmatized to be so awful has become something beautiful.”
He shared that the most difficult thing he has to deal with is seeing people who believe in the negative stigma associated with HIV, that they’re worth less or they’re not as valuable.
“You have to think about a pill every morning, but other than that nothing has to change,” Curry said. “It can actually get better, and I hate seeing someone defeated by this because it’s always in their head. It’s like anything else, like being overweight, dealing with an accident, battling a disease and overcoming it. You have the choice on how you react to a situation, and I hate when people give up. If you hold it in and internalize it, it’ll just eat you up.”
He noted that there’s a big divide in the community between the older generation and younger, but feels that as a community they can develop a solution.
Curry knows that he will never let the virus get the best of him and continues to live every day to its fullest. When asked about the future, he reacted with enthusiasm.
“My future is going to be amazing if I keep a positive attitude,” Curry said. “As long as everyone else keeps a positive attitude, nothing is going to change. I’m just like everyone else; I just say on top of what keeps me healthy.”
To check out Tyler Curry’s Needle Prick Project, go to facebook.com/getpricked