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HIV/AIDS

Individual Success Story:  Patrick

When Patrick learned in 1987 that he was HIV-positive, he went to work as a store manager as usual. But his mind wasn't functioning as usual; for the next few months, he was consumed by the diagnosis, unsure of what to do. In those early years, employers were sometimes firing people because of their status as HIV-positive. There was even talk of quarantining people who had the virus. Patrick needed and loved his job and wanted his work life to continue as it had been.

Speaking Up When Few People Did

In 1987, no one was using search engines to research issues and find answers — there was no Internet yet. Patrick had moved from his native Nebraska to San Diego to learn to surf, and stayed, enjoying a job with the Nature Company. Upon his diagnosis, he looked for people he could talk with, especially for his work life. It was a dark period. He eventually trusted his supervisor, who is "one of the most inspirational people in my life," he says. He knew she could easily fire him; there were no legal protections for people with disabilities then (the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not become law until 1990).

As they sat outside their store in San Diego, his supervisor listened and supported him. When he applied for a job at a smaller company later, he again demonstrated courage by bringing up his HIV status in the initial interview. (The law does not require disclosure to a prospective employer; it is entirely the interviewee's choice.)  He'd already done his research about the company and asked what its policy was for supporting someone with HIV. "The pause seemed to last forever. I thought for sure I wasn't going to get that job," he says.

But he was wrong. They hired him, saying, "We realize we have to do something. We're not there yet. As a board of directors, we're trying to think about this."  Once again, courage and candor had propelled Patrick forward. When the directors sold the company a few years later, Patrick applied for a job at Levi Strauss & Co. (LS&Co.). He had long been aware of the company and its corporate values and thought the culture would be a good match for him. He was right; in fact, LS&Co. was then, and remains today, a leader in the employer response to HIV/AIDS.

Living and Working with HIV 24 Years Later

Patrick has a lot to say about how different the work environment is now. In 2011, when a LS&Co. leader introduced "More Than It Seams," a retail employee-focused HIV in the workplace campaign, she asked the managers — including Patrick — gathered in a large room how many knew a person living with HIV. Counting raised hands, he looked around at his colleagues, thought about their potential impact on others' lives, and chose courage and candor once again, deciding that, as he presented to his own district (Great Plains and Southwest) in the coming days, he would disclose his HIV status. As his team gathered for his presentation, he reflected on having hired all of them, thought about how he had felt back in 1987 and wondered, "What if there are people who face this now?  I want everyone here to work in a supportive environment."

A Supportive Response

Since his disclosure, Patrick has heard from LS&Co. employees who got bad information from others, and from one person who confided in Patrick his own HIV status and said he hadn't known where to turn. That made Patrick think back to spending each day thinking and worrying, something he no longer does. "The last few years, that ghost hasn't been there saying, ‘You've got HIV,'" he says. Patrick is determined to not let that ghost haunt others at LS&Co, either.

Employment and Purpose

Working is an integral part of Patrick's life. In fact, his two self-care basics are staying physically fit and continuing to work at a job that he loves. "This doesn't control me. I control it. That's a huge part of my survival," he says. He also advises anyone at LS&Co. who is HIV-positive to find answers online in the information-rich section of the internal employee HIV/AIDS website about the company's HIV in the workplace effort.

Patrick also appreciates that a large, global company amplifies its impact when it sets policy and reaches out to employees and suppliers on important issue. All of this action is, for Patrick, part of ending the AIDS epidemic. "Today I feel strongly that all employees — especially our young professionals in the retail environment, regardless of their HIV status — be informed, stay informed, spread empathy, encourage people to get tested, and stay healthy and stop the spread of HIV," he says. "For me, the first step at work involves working together to create a place that supports HIV knowledge and dispels HIV assumptions and misconceptions."

With courage and candor, Patrick and LS&Co. are modeling what is possible.

2012 marks the 30th anniversary of LS&Co.'s leadership in the HIV/AIDS response. Every day around the world, company employees — like Patrick — demonstrate their courage and empathy in supporting each other and communities impacted by HIV/AIDS.