Terry Leatherwood went back to live with his mother after living with an alcoholic grandfather.
His mother, who had epileptic seizures after being shot several times by his father, remarried when Leatherwood was in the fourth grade.
A few years later, Leatherwood went to the Boy’s Haven of America in Beaumont, Texas, after being molested several times by his stepfather.
While going to school at BHOA, he played the cello, achieved a 4.0 grade-point average and graduated at the top of his class.
He went on to graduate from the University of California, San Diego, with degrees in both music and mathematics.
But just when he was rebounding from a difficult childhood, Leatherwood contracted AIDS.
“I played the cello for 23 years,” Leatherwood said. “But in the process of all that I got HIV. I was diagnosed in Sydney, Australia, because my lover had lied to me.”
Leatherwood was getting a routine testosterone test when his doctor discovered the AIDS strain in his blood sample.
His male partner of two years never told him he was infected with HIV.
“When I got (to the United States), I ignored it completely because it was too much to deal with,” Leatherwood said.
Loneliness, he said, is the most crippling part of the disease.
“With HIV, depression and stress will kill you quicker than drugs or alcohol because of its effect on your immune system,” he said.
Leatherwood was among a handful of speakers who conducted a demonstration in front of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center on Tuesday afternoon.
The event was part of the National Campaign to End AIDS, which consists of nine other caravans of speakers and supporters affected by HIV. On Saturday, the caravans will meet in Washington, D.C., for “4 Days of Action to End AIDS,” said coordinator of the USF chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign Maralis Mercado.
According to the Web site CampaigntoendAIDS.org, thousands of people will travel to Washington, D.C., to persuade politicians to enact policies that will help put an end to HIV and AIDS.
Mercado, along with two other USF students, will be there.
“We’re advocating for the reauthorization of the Ryan White Act, which is one of the main sources of funding for people with HIV,” Mercado said.
The Act assists people living with HIV by funding primary health care and support services.
“There are different legislators that we’re going to be talking with, and CNN will be there,” Mercado said. “People are even walking from New York to D.C.”
Campaign supporters will also be advocating protection of Medicaid, increases to the Global Fund to fight AIDS to save lives worldwide and shifts in HIV prevention and sex-ed funding to proven-effective programs at home and abroad.
At USF, campaign coordinators were asking students to fill out four different cards to Florida senators and President George W. Bush before unexpected rain put an early end to the rally.
According to co-coordinator Michael Rajner, the cards will be used to urge Congress to support their platform.
“All these people are in hell,” Rajner said. “Here Bush has basically signed the death warrant for anyone getting their medication through the Ryan White Act.”
Rajner also said the need for a stronger Medicaid program is critical in the state of Florida, where budget cuts are affecting people from getting their medicine.
“They’re moving toward a prescription plan where you can get only a certain amount of medicine. The system is becoming more difficult to navigate and access.”
Several months ago, Leatherwood was hospitalized with an ulcer running from his nasal cavity to his stomach.
“I couldn’t eat food,” Leatherwood said. “It would get stuck in (the ulcer), and it would burn. I couldn’t drink water. I lost 40 pounds in a month and was hospitalized for about a month to a month and a half.
“You’re not seeing many people who take their medication die; they’re living 20 to 30 years. But right now what’s happening and what’s going to happen and what’s really irritating is (politicians) pay more attention to so many other things. (AIDS) is not just my problem. It’s your problem, it’s everyone’s problem and people don’t see it like that. They want to ignore it. I guarantee you, those students out there (by the Marshall Center) if you took an HIV test from them I guarantee you you’re going to have maybe 20-30 cases, at least.”