Daniel Garza, HIV Educator; Chair, Client Advisory Committee, Radiant Health Centers; Actor, Speaker, Podcast host
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I remember being at Ben Taub Hospital in Houston. Texas. September 2000, I think it was Tuesday the 26th. I had been in the hospital over the weekend, weighed about 110 lbs. with a T-cell count of 108, and the diagnosis was AIDS.
I had been in an isolated room, with only my mother, father, and sister visiting. I could see that look in their eyes. The “we hope you get better, but it doesn’t look good” look. How could I explain to my family what AIDS was when I was selectively ignorant about it?
I was about to turn 30 on December 26. Oddly enough, I never thought I would make it to that age and here I was doing my best to make it through the night. I just wanted to be outside again and get on with my life. I also promised myself that my diagnosis was for a reason.
My family, rightly so, were scared about me having to come back and live with them. They, I mean we, didn’t have all the information about HIV. I was a 29-year-old gay man, and I was ill-informed about a virus that had been around for more than 20 years. How was that possible?
So, the first group of folks who I needed to educate on what was and was not HIV was my family and me. It also meant that I had to learn to translate the information because at the time Spanish information was limited and some of it was not translated in a culturally friendly way.
At the time I was volunteering for the Valley AIDS Council in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, and it was the perfect training ground for launching my advocacy career, although at the time I didn’t know the term existed. I knew of activism, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do.
During that first year I was asked several times to share my story. It was a short story then, being diagnosed, disclosing, and dating. I didn’t know the terms or have any facts; I only knew what I had been through so far and how it was affecting my family. It didn’t have an ending.
A year later, I decided to move back to Houston, and after I applied for services at Family Service of Greater Houston, I was asked to apply for a seat on the Ryan White Planning Council. I had no clue what I was getting into, but I was guided to apply.
I was elected to chair the Priorities & Allocations Committee, in charge of allocating money to the different services. My second year we had to cut financial aid to several food banks, and I was nicknamed “Hatchet Man.” I was hurt by the nickname, but that was also part of being an advocate on a committee.
In 2003 I was part of the Act Now campaign. There were 12 advocates traveling all over Texas finding clients with a story to share. We were going to the capital, Austin, to ask for additional funding for ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program).
It was the largest amount funded to date. I was an advocate training another advocate.
I continued to do my part in Houston until I moved to Laguna Beach, Calif. I thought my time as an advocate was over, I was going to be a famous actor. I quickly learned advocacy doesn’t leave your system that easily. I became an ambassador for Shanti Orange County, Radiant Health Centers, and the University of California – Irvine, sharing my story to high schools, community colleges, and universities, and educating young folks on infection prevention, treatments, and living with HIV.
In 2020 I celebrated 20 years HIV+, 13 years clean and sober, and my 50th birthday. For all that 2020 wasn’t, I reached tremendous milestones in my life personally and professionally. I am proud to call myself an advocate, after thinking I wouldn’t make it to age 30.
Today, I chair the Client Advisory Committee and sit at the table with other board members for Radiant Health Centers, making sure that the client’s voice is heard, in English and Spanish. I wear that hat with great respect and honor that I was chosen to hold such a position.
An advocate is a person who supports a cause, and my cause was to give HIV, anal cancer, and mental health a voice. Once an advocate, always an advocate, and I’ve been blessed to make a career out of it. I look forward to what the future holds for me in my advocacy. (PV)