GA: What would you like the HIV poz community here to learn about what is happening in El Salvador?
HS: I want the HIV poz community in the U.S. to talk to their partners about their status. I had six partners after learning about my status, and I have always shared with them my status. El Salvador has many people living “in the closet” with both their HIV status and their sexuality. People have fled El Salvador to have better access to HIV meds, or simply because of the stigma and violence people face. We need to break the taboo of HIV in El Salvador. We are the second largest country in Central America with HIV rates (Honduras comes in first place).
GA: What was El Salvador like for you growing up?
HS: El Salvador was definitely a third-world country. I graduated right when the war broke out in 1979. I was fortunate enough to be in a city where the war did not affect us as much. There was fear, but it did not traumatize me.
GA: How were you treated once people found out you were gay?
HS: People did not believe I was gay, because I could “pass.” Overall, people treated me right. No one ever bullied me or discriminated [against] me directly to my face.
GA: Why did you leave El Salvador to go to D.C.? And why did you choose D.C.?
HS: I left [for] D.C. because that is where my family was located. My mom and dad were there, along with my siblings. Choosing D.C. was not a choice, but rather my destiny. I had no choice. But I do enjoy the city, and it is culturally rich and diverse. I did fall in love with San Francisco, and I may have moved out there if I could.
GA: Were you involved in activism in D.C.?
HS: I was involved in activism since I got to D.C. I was actively involved in HIV prevention in the Latinx household. I would participate in the Salvadoran Consulate and participate in cultural festivals and Pride events. Activism has been a foundation of my life, especially since I was a Boy Scout growing up. Activism has always run through my blood; I felt the need to help others — this fed my soul.
GA: What was it like moving to D.C. as a gay man and from El Salvador?
HS: I had a wonderful experience, and I met other men from other cultures who were attracted to me. I would respect others, and they would reciprocate that respect back to me.
GA: How did you run your political campaign?
HS: People knew I was gay, but I had gained respect from my peers, and that helped me navigate my campaign like anyone else would have run theirs. I never focused on my gay identity, but I did have opponents make an ad about me with the word “faggot” at the top of the ad. I still have that image, and I keep it as a reminder. I can send it to you if you like.
GA: How was it talking about HIV in your hometown?
HS: It was difficult talking to them about HIV/AIDS. I look healthy, and they could not believe I was HIV positive, because they think that if you are poz, you must be sick. Thankfully, I was accepted. The people enjoyed my lively spirits, and I serve as an HIV advocate who speaks at universities and public-health settings.
Another important factor I need to share is that I was celibate for a year after learning about my HIV status. I had to learn about sex ed and safer-sex practices, and I did this while living in D.C. I am currently seeing someone for the last six months, and I continue to talk to people about safe-sex practices and about abortions, especially because here in El Salvador we are a poor country with few resources for youth.
GA: What have you been doing these days?
HS: I currently live in El Salvador, and I am working to create a museum on Salvadoran immigration in the U.S., which will be located in my hometown, Intipucá. We are expecting to finish the museum this coming year; I have been working with Salvadorans in Washington, D.C. to make this happen. I also make myself available to talk with Salvadoran youth about safe-sex practices, as I have mentioned before. My mother is in town for my birthday, and she brought me 2,000 condoms and lube to pass around the neighborhood.