One Florida politician could make history by becoming the country's first openly HIV-positive congressman.
Bob Poe is the former chair of Florida's Democratic party and is running for Congress to represent the state's 10th district. The 61-year-old Orlando attorney is openly gay and married. None of those things are groundbreaking in and of themselves.
But on Thursday, Poe uploaded a video to his Facebook page revealing that he has been living with HIV for 18 years.
In the video, Poe explained he's never shared his diagnosis with anyone other than his close family members. He said he felt inspired to publicly share the information after meeting someone at a campaign rally who had recently been diagnosed with HIV.
"She thought she had a death sentence. I told her that she didn't and I even shared with her where she could go to get the resources that she needed," Poe said. "But I really just wanted to hug her and let her know that she wasn't alone."
In an interview with Watermark magazine on Thursday, Poe explained how he contracted HIV in the 1990s and tried to hide the diagnosis for many years.
“When I was chair of the state Democratic Party back in 2000, I would go so far as to tear the labels off of my medicine bottles, shred those labels, and then drive to an entirely different location to deposit the empty bottles in a dumpster,” he said.
Poe's announcement comes at a time when Florida is struggling with a rise in HIV cases. Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Florida had the second-highest rate of new HIV infections in the country in 2014. The average Floridian has a 1 in 54 chance of being diagnosed with HIV, compared with the national rate of 1 in 99.
Poe told the Orlando Sentinel he hopes to draw more attention to issues of HIV funding, prevention and treatment, and that he plans to convene a community symposium on the topic soon.
Poe's district is heavily Democratic. If he wins the primary on August 30th, he would be highly favored to win. No Republican candidates have declared for the election yet, and incumbent Rep. Daniel Webster is running for election in a different district.
Whether he wins or not, Poe's campaign shows we've come a long way since HIV/AIDs was little more than sick punchline in the White House briefing room..