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+TALK

+TALK: LEXI GIBSON

Karl Schmid speaks with activist, advocate, and change maker, Lexi Gibson.

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Lexi Gibson.

KARL

She was born with HIV and diagnosed at two. Up next.

Hey there, welcome to Plus Talk on Plus Life, where we are all about turning positive into a plus. And boy oh boy, does my guest today personify that. Her name is Lexi Gibson. She lives in Las Vegas. She’s almost 30. Hey Lexi, great to see you.

LEXI

Hey, how are you doing?

KARL

I’m doing real well. It’s a real pleasure to meet you because as I sit there at the top, you personify turning positive into a plus because you have known nothing other than HIV your whole life because you were born with it, right?

LEXI

Absolutely, yes.

KARL

And you have taken that, and you’ve taken your life and all that is incumbent and you are now doing so much good. And we’ll talk about stophate.educate shortly. But let’s just talk about being born with HIV and what growing up with it is like. Because so many people still think of HIV as a white gay dudes disease. Clearly not the case. Tell us your story.

LEXI

So I was actually born in LA. And my family was unaware of my status until I was two years old. On my birthday actually in 1993 is when I was diagnosed. I was born in ’91. And my mother was sick for a long period of time and they just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. And they were doing a bunch of tests, but they kept skipping over the HIV test because she was a white straight woman. And at the time, they classified it as a black man’s, the gay black man’s disease. And for years she went undiagnosed and they finally decided, “Well, let’s do an HIV test.” Because she ended up getting thrush. And they did it and it was positive. And they tested the whole family, my father, brother, me and my mom. And me and my mom are the ones who came back positive.

KARL

And obviously passed down to you.

LEXI

Yes, from my mother. Yeah, she was unaware. And before she passed, she ended up becoming an advocate for HIV and speaking out about it in the community. And she actually wrote the Clintons at the time when they were in office to ask for more for HIV. And because she did that, she ended up getting a lot of backlash in her community from other people who were terrified because at that time, it was around when Magic Johnson was in a fight of whether he could fall or not. And they had known that it wasn’t spread through saliva, but people were still very scared and they questioned everything. So people didn’t want me around their children. And at school, in my elementary school, I had my own bathroom, my own water fountain, my own corner of the classroom. If I spit, I was sent home. If I bled, I was sent home. And so it just got to the point where as a little child, I realized that if I bit my fingers and made my cuticles bleed, I could get sent home and the bullying would stop.

KARL

Wow. So, you were doing it on purpose to get out of school to get away from the bully. When did you realize that what you had was HIV? At what age were you when that sort of sunk in? Because I guess as a little one, you don’t really put all that together.

LEXI

Yeah, it was about third grade, I would say, when I realized I have this because I knew I was taking medicine all the time and I was actually a Guinea pig for the HIV medicine at UCLA Hospital. So they did so many tests on me. And I was taking like 36 pills three times a day at one point. So it was rough sicknesswise from the side effects of the medication, but then also really rough at school. And so it kind of just, gradually over time I knew I was different. And I never understood why people didn’t want me around and they didn’t like me. But it really kind of hit me, I think, when I was in like third, fourth grade when I realized like, “I have this scary thing called HIV “and nobody wants me around them.”

KARL

And at what point, do you ever remember the point where you were able to turn around from, “I have this really scary thing “and no one wants me around “and I’m perceived as dangerous” to knowing within yourself that you weren’t what you were being called? And how did you overcome that?

LEXI

Yes. So, what ended up happening, because I didn’t have my own self esteem built yet. My mom had passed away when I was four and a half. She didn’t make it. And my dad really struggled with me. He worked full time. And the emotional side of things and the healthy processing tools, I didn’t really get. And although I was therapy, my dad tried to put me in therapy, at the time, nothing was sticking for me. So I ended up adopting everyone around me, their beliefs of who I was and what I was, whether that was a freak, or ugly, or gross, or stupid, and “Get away from us.” I took all that on. And so I felt that, and I believed that I was worthless and that I was gonna die because I was told by the doctors that I wasn’t supposed to live past 13. So in my mind, that was it for me. And I was Lexi Gibson, the girl with AIDS who was gonna die. And everybody wanted me to die anyways. But it changed because I ended up getting adopted when I was 15. My dad ended up dropping me off at a group home when I was 14 because he just couldn’t handle everything anymore, and that’s a whole story in itself, but I bounced around for a little bit. And then I was adopted by this amazing woman, who is lesbian, Sharon Whitworth. And she was 34 at the time. And she took me in, no kids. Her ex wife’s brother was HIV positive. So she was in the world of HIV and she ended up taking me in, and she got me in therapy, and she put me in a therapeutic boarding school my senior year when I was 17. And that really changed my life. And I realized that I have control over how I see myself by the thoughts that I think and the thoughts that I choose to adopt about myself. And so I did a lot of work to reprogram the way that I saw myself and the world. And I just came to understand, I grew empathy for other people instead of making it about me. I was a victim, but I stopped the victim mindset because I realized that people were fearful. I’m amazing. But just because they don’t have the information, it doesn’t mean that I am all of those things. So I was able to overcome all of that and just be like, “I’m done taking on other people’s idea of who I am.” And I created who I was, who I am.

KARL

That’s amazing at such a young age that you can process all of that. And that is, by the way, I think the power of therapy. And I’m a big advocate for therapy. But what would you say to other young people out there who may be in similar situations that you were going through other than, if you can, get into therapy. But how do people overcome that like you have?

LEXI

Yes. It really starts with just having a desire to change your story and to change the way that you see yourself. And I stopped focusing on people who didn’t want to have any type of friendship or relationship with me, but that even lessened the more confident I became in myself, because the more confident I became, the more I was able to just be and not make it a big thing and be nonchalant about it. Because it isn’t a big deal. I can’t pass it to people. I’m undetectable. And I live a normal life just like everybody else. So I began to live in that and that created my reality. And then other people felt that. So when I would just not only bring up that I have HIV, I would immediately educate them afterwards to give them the information. And then I let them sit with it and do what they need and ask questions. But I don’t take people’s reactions personally because it’s not about me, it’s them and their own lack of education. It’s ignorance. And I can have love for them and not make it about me. And so I just, again, I changed the way that I saw the situation. And because of that, I was able to, you change your mind and then the rest of your life follows after that. And so it just kind of all set in and the confidence really changed everything. And it starts with the way that I saw myself. I wanted a different life and so I created that.

KARL

And you are a big HIV advocate. So when you’re out there trying to smash stigma, what have you found so far have been the most effective ways to break through that stigma and change people’s minds about what it is to have HIV?

LEXI

I think really just by being me. And that’s also what I realized is it the more that everyone keeps hiding, we’re not showing the world one, how many of us there are, and how normal the life we live. And that they would see that, “Oh, wow, you take medicine “and the virus is undetectable “and you can’t pass it?” And “Oh, I’m not having sex with you “so it’s not even something “that I even need to worry about.” But even then, if I am, there’s an extra preventative or just be undetectable and we’re good to go.

KARL

No, you’re right. And it’s just visibility matters, I always say. I wanna talk about stophate.educate. And I know that sort of started really in the HIV sphere for you, and I would think that the events of the last 18 months have also helped really broaden now what stophate.educate does and means. Tell me a bit about that.

LEXI

Yes. So what ended up happening is I launched my first YouTube video some years ago, probably about six, seven years ago. And I got so much feedback from people wanting help. And at the time, I was in school for human services to get a bachelor’s in human services. And I knew that I wanted to start with HIV and then move into mindset and coaching and stuff, but I didn’t know how that was gonna happen. It was just so beautiful because I posted my first YouTube video and I was already creating a therapeutic program for another business to do an HIV section of psychosocial rehabilitation and basic skills training. And then all of these people started reaching out to me and were asking for help. So I was like, “I’m just gonna turn this into my own program, “a nonprofit.” And in my first video, in the end, part of my script when I said thank you was “Let’s stop the hate and educate.” And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, that’s the name.” And then from there, I just continued to do oneonones with people, and coaching, and just outreach through social media. And I knew I wanted it to be bigger than just HIV. And so it’s currently in a rebranding phase right now, but I changed the mission from HIV education outreach to ending hate and discrimination in all forms through education and love. And I’m really big just on healing all these different areas where discrimination by reaching the people who are maybe spewing hate, meeting them with love, and patience, and education, because that’s really what changes it. Because when we yell at people and we get upset, “Oh, you’re so stupid. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” They’re not gonna listen. So if we understand that they just maybe don’t have the information and everybody comes to take things differently, we can meet them with love, give them the information, let them sit with it, and just keep focusing on the fact that there is beauty and it will get better. And we just gotta keep doing this altogether.

KARL

And we are all on board for that. Lexi Gibson, thank you so much for your time and for all the hard work you do, not just destigmatizing HIV, but with everything with stophate.educate. Really great to chat with you. Thanks so much, Lexi.

LEXI

Thank you. See you.

KARL

See you. That’s all the time we have for this episode of Plus Talk. If you wanna find out more about stophate.educate, we’ll have all the information up on our website. That’s pluslifemedia.com. And you can follow us across social media platforms. We are @pluslifemedia. Until next time, stay safe, wash your hands. Thanks for watching. See you soon.

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