Photo credits: Rocquel McCray
Celebrating Rocquel’s birthday at La Louisanne Restaurant in Santa Monica, California.
Lilieth (right) and I met in Homestead, Florida, at a local church while attending a women’s conference. Lilieth flew in from California and was featured as a guest speaker for the evening. After hearing Lilieth’s story of living with HIV for approximately 27 years and how God delivered her from a lesbian lifestyle, I was inspired. After Lilieth shared her story, a mutual friend called me from the audience and asked me to tell my story of how I became an HIV advocate. So, I began to share the following story: In 2007, my mom had contracted HIV. At that time, I had heard about HIV, but I knew very little about it. All I knew was to stay away from men who were HIV positive and always wear a condom.
I had sleepless nights for approximately two weeks, thinking about my mom living with HIV. Then, one day, God came to me in a dream, saying,”Why are you planning your mother’s death, don’t you know that she can live? Do you believe in me?” I heard a loud roar and God appeared to be angry at me. Then I jumped up out of my sleep, trembling. I grabbed my Bible and was directed to Psalms 118: verse 8:9, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to have confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to have confidence in princesses.” Then I was directed to John 14, “Let Not your Heart Be Troubled. Ye believe in the Lord also believe in me.” Then the Lord told me to read John chapter 15. At the time, I didn’t quite understand what it meant, but I recalled that it said God will send me comforter.
After I read those scriptures, I heard the Holy Spirit say, “I want you to go back and tell your mom that there is nothing wrong with that great sickness that she has, and not only do I want you to tell her, but I am going to use you to teach people how they can live and through you I am going to heal them.”I asked God why did he call it a “great sickness” when there are so many people dying? The Lord didn’t respond until a few years later. Greatness stands for Grab Reality Enforce AIDS Testing Now Enjoy Safe Sex. Then the Lord instructed me to start a non-profit organization and name it You Can Live Outreach.
I told the Lord that I had no idea how to open a non-profit organization, or where to start. The Lord said don’t worry about it, I will teach you. I asked the Lord where do I start and the Lord said start out in churches. I told the Lord that I am going to get beat up, trying to tell church folks and married couples to practice safe sex. The Lord said just do what I instructed you to do, and I am going to send people to assist you. The Lord then gave me instructions that he wanted me to raise HIV/AIDS awareness through playwriting. The Lord said, in the beginning you are going to experience a lot of resistance from the public, but there will be a diverse group of people coming from all over the world, bringing their families to the theatres. While I would be working on post at an off duty detail, the Lord would be giving me visions on what type of stories to write to raise HIV/AIDS awareness. My mind was racing faster than I could write.
I told my mom all about my dream, and the visions that God had given me. My mom decided to disclose her status to other family members and friends. I did not follow God’s instructions until seven years later. Instead, I opened a home based income tax business from 2009-2011, and called it Florida City Tax Services. Then I went back to college and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Barry University. I am currently pursuing my Masters Degree in Public Administration. After I graduated in 2013, I had this great idea on how I was going to take money from my retirement account and bring my home based income tax business to the store front. Well, it didn’t quite happen that way.
One day, my grandson, who was age 3 at the time, was on the computer and there was a young lady by the name of Renee Burgess, from HIV Faces telling her story of how she contracted HIV from her husband. Renee found out that she was HIV positive, after discovering she was pregnant with twins, during a doctor’s visit. According to Renee, she married her husband not knowing he was HIV positive. After hearing Renee’s story, I no longer wanted to pursue opening an income tax business. It was at that moment, that I began to pursue my purpose in life. It was the best decision that I could have ever made.
My mom and I were best friends. I made sure that she had the best medical treatment, but one thing that I was afraid to do was to ask her questions about living with HIV. It is such a sensitive topic and I had no idea how to engage in a dialogue without making my mom feel uncomfortable, due to stigma. My mom eventually passed away in April 2013, from Renal Kidney failure. Not knowing anything about a non-profit organization, I began to pray and ask God for directions.
I attended a HIV/AIDS course offered by Miami Dade Health Department to become certified as counselor in 2014. While attending the training, the instructor asked during a class discussion, “Would you have intercourse with someone if you were HIV negative and the other party was positive?” I said, “Of course not!” That was the first time that I learned the definition of a serodiscordant [serodifferent] relationship. A serodifferent relationship means one partner is negative and the other partner is positive.
I also learned about PrEP (a once-a-day pill that reduces your chances of contracting HIV). It was my understanding that PrEP was available at an affordable price for individuals who were considered “high risk:” sex workers, IV drug users, individuals that have unprotected sex with multiple partners, men who have sex with men (MSM), and people who are in serodifferent relationships, etc. I was also told that most insurance companies will not pay for PrEP for individuals that were not considered high risk. The instructor informed us that only one out of three primary physicians know about PrEP. I became certified, and later joined several HIV/AIDS discussion groups on Facebook to learn more about HIV/AIDS.
After sharing my story at the conference, Lilieth and I became close friends. Prior to Lilieth and I being involved in a monogamous relationship, I wanted to know how difficult will it be to get on PrEP. I decided, what better way to educate the public about PrEP than to be on it myself? I recorded videos of me going to my primary doctor and inquiring about PrEP. Surprisingly, my doctor of 17 years looked astonished because she knew that I was HIV negative and had a clean bill of health. My physician had never heard of PrEP. I took that time to educate my doctor and encouraged her to learn about PrEP. Because she knew nothing about PrEP, she referred me to an infectious disease doctor. After I met with the infectious disease doctor, he wanted to know why I wanted to take PrEP. I told him that I was HIV negative and my partner was positive. He interrogated me for about forty five minutes. He looked astonished, but he was very knowledgeable. We had a peculiar conversation. He asked me how long my boyfriend and I were together and did we engage in unprotected sex? I had a smirk on my face, because he automatically assumed that my partner was a male.
Basically, he was trying to indirectly persuade me to not get involved with someone who was living with HIV. He was probing for information. Then he asked me what type of work that I do for a living? I told him that I was a police sergeant and his entire demeanor changed. He went from this seemingly cold, unfriendly doctor to a loving, caring, doctor. He even gave me his direct contact number LOL (laugh out Loud). Eventually, he wrote the prescription for PrEP. It cost the insurance company $1,740 a month for a 30-day supply, but I only had to pay$30 co-pay, which totals to $20,880 yearly. I only take PrEP so that I can show my followers how to get PrEP and share the side effects that I was experiencing.
Rocquel at work.
At the time that I started taking PrEP, Lilieth and I were only friends. Shortly after, we became very close and realized that we had so much in common. Because Lilieth was open about her status, she allowed me to ask her anything about HIV and trust me, I interrogated her. Lilieth thought that her desire to be in a relationship with a woman had faded away and I, couldn’t figure out how I developed feelings with not only a woman, but someone who was HIV positive. My family knows about Lilieth’s status and accepts her with open arms. However, some of my friends are afraid that I will contract HIV. Lilieth has been undetectable for approximately ten years and her chances of exposing me to HIV are effectively zero. Believe it or not, I feel safe because our relationship is transparent.
Rocquel and Lilieth
You Can Live Outreach Program is a place where love resides. We are a non-profit organization that is currently home based with limited funding. We provide community outreach services to the public. Some of the services that we provide are feeding the homeless, mentoring our youth, and raising HIV/AIDS awareness to the public. Our organization receives 5000, free assorted condoms to issue to the public on a quarterly basis. Although we do not have a building due to funding, we take great pride with helping our community, especially individuals living with HIV/AIDS. One of my greatest loves of being an advocate is able being to heal the broken and restore hope. Our goal is to strengthen our community with love and eliminate stigma.
I am currently writing a play called Identity Theft. I was inspired to write Identity Theft after meeting a thirteen-year-old that contracted HIV from sexual intercourse. There are over 34 million people worldwide living with HIV and 1 out of 5 people living with HIV don’t know it. The reason why the play is called “Identity Theft” is because once an individual learns about people living with HIV; society robs them out of their identity, due to stigma. Identity Theft is about a high school girl that was born with HIV. All the high school students deliberately belittled her, causing her to relocate to another state. Identity theft will make some laugh, cry, help eliminate stigma, but most importantly to educate the public. HIV is on the rise for ages 13-24 and the elderly population. Identity theft will have its first debut in theatres on July 22, 2017 at the Seminole Theatre in Homestead, Florida. We plan to take Identity Theft to theatres in other cities. This will be a free event for the public.
If you would like to donate, sponsor our event, or help raise money for Identity Theft, please visit our Go Fund Me account @ www.gofundme/Identitytheft. To direct you to the correct go fund me account, please look for a picture with my sister kissing my mother. I encourage every person who is HIV negative to join us on our quest to educate the public, eliminate stigma, and stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS.
I understand that many of my family and friends may have a concern for my welfare and that is understandable. I also understand that I may lose many of my friends after hearing about being in a relationship with a female, and who is HIV Positive. The friends that we lose because of their religious beliefs, doesn’t compare to the lives that we will save by telling our story. All I ask is that don’t make the mistake that I made.
Before anyone decides to make a negative comment about someone who is living with HIV/AIDS, please get the facts so you won’t have to eat your words after you become educated. It reminds me of how I felt about people living with HIV, when I was uneducated. Lilieth and I don’t care what others think about us, when it comes to our relationship, or religious beliefs. All we know is that we love each other, that surpasses all understanding and God loves us all unconditionally.
We are not here to debate about our religious beliefs or force religion on anyone. We have friends from all walks of life, including the non-believers. We don’t judge, but we do certainly love everyone. We are happily in love with each other and we both agree that this is the best relationship that we have ever been in. Hopefully, my story will help eliminate stigma, raise awareness in the LGBT community, encourage individuals that are negative to become more educated, give hope to individuals that are positive, and most importantly, understand that you find love and can live a long healthy lifestyle after being diagnosed HIV/AIDS.
Rocquel McCray Lilieth Conolly
Information and Resources from HIVE
As PrEP training and implementation roll out across the U.S., we are wondering how the 468,000 women who may benefit from PrEP are finding out about this new HIV prevention method, what they think about it, and what barriers remain. Applause for clinics who are routinely offering PrEP to women, including trans women. And applause for women who are thinking about what PrEP might be to them.
We are on a journey, learning and growing together. Want to share your #WheresMyPrEP story? We can work with you if you prefer to be anonymous. No professional writing skills necessary. We offer a $50 stipend for each blog that we publish. Contact Caroline@HIVEonline.org.
See below for resources on PrEP.
“PrEP can cause side effects like nausea in some people, but these generally subside over time. No serious side effects have been observed, and these side effects aren’t life threatening.” –CDC.gov
“PrEP allows a woman to control her own destiny by not having to rely on her partner’s behavior, his ability to take antiretroviral therapy, to have an undetectable viral load, to get tested. These benefits far outweigh the potential risks [of PrEP] for many women.” -Erika Aaron, CRNP, Drexel College of Medicine