When Queens native Diane Delph-Tinglin received her HIV-positive diagnosis from her OB-GYN in 2009, she was in complete disbelief.
Because she was only 22, not a drug user and in a serious, monogamous relationship, HIV wasn’t something that crossed Delph-Tinglin’s mind.
“I had to ask my doctor if they were sure they were talking to the right person,” she said. “Growing up, I thought if someone has HIV, they automatically have AIDS. I wasn’t educated.”
At the time, Delph-Tinglin’s only prior experience with HIV was her one positive friend and her godfather, who contracted HIV during the AIDS crisis. Her immediate reaction was to isolate herself and even question how long she had to live.
In fact, Delph-Tinglin didn’t seek treatment for a while, in fear that someone she knew would see her walk out of the clinic in her small neighborhood.
After feeling unheard and ignored because no one else looked like her at the local support groups she attended, Delph-Tinglin made the decision to visit The Alliance for Positive Change, an organization that helps New Yorkers with HIV and other chronic conditions find the community and care they need.
“When I first walked in there, I wasn’t the person I am now,” she said. “I wore a hat or a hood and was always covered up.
“When people would look at me, I felt very exposed,” Delph-Tinglin added. “I fell into a major depression. The Alliance took me under their wing, they helped me get back into school.”
After continuing to use their services and putting her trust in them, Delph-Tinglin enrolled in training programs at The Alliance in hopes of becoming a Peer Navigator.
Inspired to help other people like her who needed to overcome their demons brought on by their positive diagnosis, she was quickly hired by The Alliance.
“The mission as a whole is to help people who are lost and need direction, support and a home,” said Delph-Tinglin. “It’s not just about your meds, the social aspect is a big part of it.”
Today, she’s the Training Coordinator and leads workshops for HIV-positive people on various topics, including engaging with healthcare, social life, health risks and behaviors, and overall emotional health.
Delph-Tinglin said one of the biggest obstacles people living with HIV face is not knowing how to advocate for themselves when it comes to the care they need.
“In my workshop, we’ll talk about learning how to speak up for yourself because some people don’t know how to have conversations with their physicians or ask for certain services,” she said.
She also focuses on helping HIV-negative people educate themselves as well about the condition and how to prevent it.
Since Delph-Tinglin believes her partner knew he was HIV-positive but did not tell her, she works every day to educate people to be honest with themselves and their partners about their diagnosis.
“I’ve been coaching my young friends who are out there dating to ask their partners how often they get checked out,” she said. “I educate them about things that they didn’t know about before, like PrEP and PEP and female condoms.
“Over time, you can’t evolve and advance as far as the medications and the treatments, and not advance and educate people in their minds about how things are now,” Delph-Tinglin added.
As for helping HIV-positive individuals who are struggling with coming to terms with their diagnosis, Delph-Tinglin often tells them to look at her and realize that life is not over.
She is currently enrolled at SUNY Empire State in Brooklyn on track to earn her Bachelor’s degree in hopes of furthering her career in human services.
That goal, combined with the experience she’s gained at The Alliance and jumping the hurdles that often come with an HIV diagnosis, she now has the tools to succeed at whatever she sets her mind to.
“People might say it’s crazy that I say this, but I’m thankful that I’m positive,” said Delph-Tinglin. “Life is just getting better and better. When it first happened, I was devastated, but it gave me life, it gave me a new path and a purpose.”
She said that it’s still so important to recognize World AIDS Day, which takes place every year on December 1, in order to show people the progress that’s been made on treating HIV and AIDS over the years, and that if this mindset was present when her godfather was struggling with it, he could still be alive today.
She also hopes to create more opportunities for people with HIV and AIDS.
“A lot of people have come to my workshop and been able to attend trainings that landed them internships and other opportunities,” she said. “I wish there were more places like The Alliance, because the family and the love they give there was something I needed when I first got diagnosed.
“When I got there, I saw people my age who were making it, and that made me want to do it too,”she continued. “I feel like that’s the attitude we need to have. We can do better and we can live better.”