Poz Magazine, an award winning magazine and website for people living with and affected by HIV, released its annual Poz 100 list and three South Floridians are included in this year’s list.

This year’s edition is unique in that it recognizes those longtime warriors – all the honorees have been living with HIV since before effective treatment became available.

“Living with HIV has changed tremendously in the past three decades, with advances in treatment being the biggest factor,” said Oriol Gutierrez, POZ editor-in-chief. “In 1996, we saw the introduction of effective treatment, transforming outcomes for people with HIV. But today, we face challenges we never imagined. One example? As of 2015, half of the population living with HIV is estimated to be over 50, while our knowledge of aging with HIV remains insufficient. We also face ongoing challenges in prevention, vaccine and cure research.”

The following are capsules of the three South Floridians recognized this and members of the community who were listed in years past.

Fernando De Hoyos, 50, Fort Lauderdale.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Fernando De Hoyos left the island in 1989 in search of HIV treatment after being infected in his first sexual encounter. Landing in New York City, De Hoyos worked for GMHC on its hotline and a forum about HPV and anal cancer. Through God’s Love We Deliver, he helped feed shut-in New Yorkers living with HIV. Later, De Hoyos would move to Hawaii, where he coordinated and participated in HIV research relating to the human brain. Presently, De Hoyos works at Latinos Salud as a certified HIV/STD tester, phlebotomist and counselor and facilitates Positive-Social, a weekly support group he founded for HIV positive people and their allies.

“It is an incredible honor for anyone to be mentioned on The Poz 100 List, especially for someone like me who has been living with HIV for so long,” De Hoyos said. “But this isn't really just about the 100 people on the list, but also about the countless unsung heroes in our HIV-positive community. Through this journey, I've met many of them who mentored and inspired me to be better at what I do. People living with HIV often have a unique understanding of what needs to be done in the fight against HIV and AIDS and how to do it best. I may not have survived this long without their efforts. Some of them are still with us, but most are not. This gives me the opportunity to thank and honor them by dedicating this recognition to them and recommitting myself to finishing the work they started.”

Maria Mejia, 42, Miami

Diagnosed with HIV one week after her 18th birthday, Maria Mejia used encouraging words from her mother to get her through the initial shock and escaped the gang riddled streets of Colombia to pursue a better life. Twenty-four years later, Mejia is a strong and attractive activist, giving hope to the hopeless through action and advocacy for HIV treatment, testing, education and prevention. She works for The Well Project, a global resource for women and girls to overcome inequalities, barriers and stigma. Mejia reaches tens of thousands of people in English and Spanish through her many social media platforms. As a Latina and a lesbian, Mejia knows well the issues of diverse populations and is passionate about educating future generations.

“This is an acknowledgment of what I have been fighting for most of my life,” Mejia said of her recognition by the magazine. “My story is an example of if you do what you need to do then you can be productive and teach the world that HIV is not the end.” Mejia is married to Lisa Laing, who is HIV negative. The couple have been together for nine years. “We are very much in love,” she said.

Eddie Orozco, 50, Miami

Orozco was still a teenager when he was diagnosed with HIV. For the next two years he lived in denial, until he met his partner; the love and support he found in that relationship helped him value his own life and health, and motivated him to give back. He started volunteering at an HIV resource center in Miami, then joined The Center for Positive Connections as a program coordinator, and eventually chaired the advisory board. Today Orozco is the program facilitator and HIV tester at Pridelines, fundraises for the Miami Gay Men's Chorus and is chair-elect of the Miami-Dade HIV/AIDS Partnership. Orozco feels blessed to offer others the love that helped him become the healthy activist he is today.

Michael Rajner, Wilton Manors

A member of Broward County’s Human Rights Board, Michael Rajner took time out of his busy schedule to issue the following statement of Poz Magazine’s meaningful impact.

“The POZ 100 is an wonderful opportunity each year where POZ shines light on some wonderful people living with HIV/AIDS who sacrifice their time to advocate on behalf of our community and celebrate their contributions,” Rajner said. “It was an honor to be recognized in 2010 and 2011 and in subsequent years to nominate individuals from Florida for POZ to recognize. Collectively, these individuals help fight stigma each day of their lives.”

Anthony Johnson, Fort Lauderdale

A senior intervention specialist at Broward House, Anthony Johnson said it is important to know you are making a difference.

"It was an honor being nominated for and to be recognized as one of the POZ 100 in 2013,” Johnson said. “As a community advocate, HIV advocate, and anti-stigma advocate it is exciting to realize that your efforts are noticed by those you respect in the community. Living with HIV is a rough road to travel but this recognition helps me realize that I can make a positive difference for others who share that journey.


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