For LGBTQ People Struggling With COVID, HIV/AIDS Epidemic Casts Its Shadow

“This wine tastes funny,” he said. Joel Mosby, 42, of Memphis, was home with his husband Luke, 32, trying to enjoy a glass of white wine on St. Patrick’s Day when he noticed something was off.

“I mentioned it to Luke, and we just thought it was weird,” Mosby said. “We finished our wine and went to bed.”

The next day, on March 18, 2020, Mosby would wake up with what felt like a frontal lobe sinus headache. His head and teeth ached.

“It felt like a hangover, like a dehydration headache, then diarrhea,” Mosby said. “The next few days, I developed body aches, chills and constant fatigue. I kept all of those symptoms for almost a month.”

A couple weeks after testing positive for coronavirus, Mosby said he received a call from the Shelby County Health Department telling him his contagion period had ended, giving him the clear to end his self-quarantine. Mosby said different Baptist Hospital representatives called him throughout the process to make sure he knew his test had come back positive.

Mosby said someone called to ask him about donating plasma because he possibly had antibodies that could help combat the virus, but Mosby informed them that, while he was more than willing to donate, he was gay. He said he never heard back from them after that.

“I’ve Never Felt So Connected to What Queer People Must Have Felt in the AIDS Epidemic of the 1980s, Not Knowing Anything About the Illness They Had”

For decades, the FDA has restricted men who have had sex with men in the past year from donating blood, but the agency loosened its rules on April 2 to help address the coronavirus outbreak. The rules now allow men to donate who have not had sex with men in the past three months.

“Going through this is an uncomfortable, uncommon experience, but it woke me up,” Mosby said. “I’m HIV-, but I’ve never been as close to that feeling someone must have had back then. I’ve watched plenty of movies and I’ve considered myself very aware of gay history and experiences, but it was devastating to go through something similar to what they must have went through. Feeling sick and not knowing anything about the illness you have, while being stigmatized. It’s very sad and eye opening.”

Mosby began slowly journeying out, and traveled to his neighborhood grocery store on April 11, mask and gloves in check. Self employed, he returned to the office in early May, but would go only on the nights or weekends so as not to encounter his employees. He said he is paid on commission, but surprisingly did not take a huge loss during the nationwide economic downturn.

“I have worked harder from home during this time than I ever have,” Mosby said. “More people have been purchasing life insurance than ever before. I’ve thankfully been successful through this difficult time, but my employees haven’t been able to work, and I’ve still been paying them.”

Mosby said that 99 percent of the time, people have been supportive, but he’s had a couple of uncomfortable interactions. He blames stigma and misinformation. One of his friends made an insensitive comment that he never would have suspected. Mosby compares it to his experience coming out of the closet.

“There are people you expect to be very comforting and they surprise you, while there are some people you expect to be very judgmental, and they surprise you as well,” Mosby said. “All people are different, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

Joel is not the only person expressing the need for more information concerning COVID-19 and the LGBTQ+ community. More than 100 Congressmen sent a letter on May 20 calling on the Trump administration to collect information on the sexual orientations and gender identities of COVID-19 patients in order to better understand how the coronavirus is affecting the community.

Mosby said he also wonders if there might be lingering, long-term effects on his body after surviving the coronavirus.

“I don’t know if I could get a bruise and develop a blood clot, I don't know if I’m immune or more susceptible to catching it again because I’ve had it,” Mosby said. “There’s so much we don’t know.

“It really grounded me and showed me what’s important. I’ve slowed down to focus on the people I love. There are positive lessons I’ve learned from this. You just have to learn everything you can from it, and try to leave a better impact on the world because of it. I hope I never forget what I went through.”

This article has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project for COVID-19 coverage.



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