Love Is the Goal
With the Help of a Wise College Advisor and Howard Brown Health, Terence Steward II Is Now Able to Celebrate the Life He Created
by Dann Dulin
“I was so hurt,” recalls Terence Steward II, when he first learned that he was HIV-positive at age twenty-one. “I was overcome with devastation, guilt, and shame. It still affects me deeply.”
That was eight years ago but now Terence, twenty-nine, is doing fine. For several years, though, it was a hellish downward spiral. As a closeted gay male in Tampa, Florida, he was not fully aware of HIV/AIDS. His high school taught abstinence and the sex ed classes were “mundane and general.” It wasn’t until he attended Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin that he learned more about the virus. ,
This is where he began having sex with a male friend. When Terence turned twenty-one, he felt it was a smart idea to get tested, not ever imagining that he had acquired HIV. Two years later, his friend died of AIDS-related causes.
The diagnosis left Terence depressed and suicidal. He handled it by skipping football practice and his classes, and by just spending time in his dorm sleeping.
His mental health declined until he spoke to Marion Fass, Terence’s senior class college advisor. She highly recommended that he move to Chicago to seek treatment from Howard Brown Health Center, the Midwest’s largest LGBTQ organization. The multi-site, multi-purpose operation, established in 1974, serves nearly 30,000 people a year! They provide medical and behavioral care, research, youth and elder services, STI prevention, and community initiatives to many varied communities. Its website states: “In the beginning, there was a coffee pot, a portable kitchen table, a room above an old grocery market, and four medical students who were members of the Chicago Gay Medical Students Association who had a desire to help Chicago’s gay community. The students shared a passion for medicine and research and a philanthropic sense of community and caring. They believed there was a need for a safe and confidential place where gay men and lesbian women could get empathetic psychosocial counseling and sexually transmitted infections (STI) testing and treatment without political, professional, or personal implications or intrusions.”
Terence graduated college and returned to Tampa for two weeks before moving to Chicago. He never looked back!
Thanks to Howard Brown’s guidance and support, Terence is up-to-date on meds, he eats
healthfully, and if he needs a mood lift, he listens to Jennifer Lopez, M.I.A., Rhianna, or salsa music. By day, Terence currently works as a receptionist at SOHO House Chicago (a hotel, spa, and gym) and by night, he’s a visual artist. For those of you who have a burning desire to know, Terence’s favorite color is turquoise!
Terence is also lead performer for Neverland Events & Artist Management, he freelances as a model for popular designers, and he is a personal consultant, advising clients on how to make healthier life choices.
Dann Dulin: Tell me, what did Howard Brown teach you?
Terence Steward II: They taught me how to live a normal life through their full-on support. I learned to trust and love again, and how…to…be… patient. Howard Brown turned my negative mind into a positive one, creating a beneficial relationship with myself. I took old patterns and transformed them, developing new relationships and a new lifestyle.
I learned to love my learning process! I have a unique way of learning. I tend to learn out of order. Patience with myself has been a huge hurdle, and it has taken me a wave of time to accept. Oh, and learning how to love myself again. Sounds cliché, but true.
Though Ms. Fass suggested Howard Brown, what convinced you to move there?
I figured I could somehow build a quality life in Chicago, since moving home was not an option. Essentially, I made getting treatment into a task force. I told myself resources, opportunity, and love would be my tasks to accomplish once I got to Chicago.
Backing up a bit, how did your family handle your diagnosis?
For my mother, the news came not as a shock. For my father, the news was devastating. My mom sort of told me in advance to beware of what’s out there especially living “that lifestyle.” My dad had zero clues and his reaction was probably the same as mine. He sobbed and became depressed. My parents felt as though they lost their child to the world.
That seems to be a natural reaction, Terence. How do you handle revealing your status with potential dates and boyfriends?
In my past relationships I have struggled with disclosing my status. I’d wait until the last minute to tell my status, and then get exactly what I didn’t want—rejection. Now that I am comfortable with myself it’s easier. I look forward to talking sexual health and the line of rejection. It allows me to know who really wants to share time in getting to know me.
What current medication are you taking and how’s your health these days?
Biktarvy is my current medication. This is one of the newest antiretroviral treatments. I take one pill a day. For me, the ARVs have shown a great deal of success. [Terence pauses then declares robustly] My health is very strong. I have always been an extremely healthy person, though since becoming HIV-positive I have become super mindful and aware of my mental, physical, social, and spiritual health. I have a very detailed exercise and nutrition plan that I created to maintain a rich, fulfilled and active life.
Sounds as though you are definitely committed. Who’s your role model?
I don’t necessarily have one. [He mulls the question over.] People in my field I admire, along with Naomi Campbell, Martin Luna, and my sister, Tia.
What are you most proud of?
Taking the step to move to Chicago. The quality of life I chose and the risk was bold, daring, and courageous. I celebrate the life I have created.
You have every right to do so, Terence. What advice would you tell your younger self?
Take yourself seriously, even if your family and close friends don’t. Love how different you think, you live—and express MORE of your own style.
Having been through this journey, what’s your advice to others, Terence?
My advice is to understand that HIV is prevalent and …can happen to anyone! The best way to be prepared is to get educated about the disease.
[Revved, Terrence concludes in a uplifting somber tone] Loving yourself. Now that’s the ultimate care!
Follow Terence on Twitter @TerenceSteward.
Dann Dulin interviewed Ryan O’Connell for the September 2019 cover story.