Queer Eye for the Straight Guy Alum Jai Rodriguez Speaks About What HIV Means to Him
Jai Rodriguez’s days as the culture guide on Bravo’s 2003 Emmy-winning show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy are long behind him. Now, the actor continues to build his career in an array of projects including Sharknado 5 (USA), Wisdom of the Crowd (CBS) and a Las Vegas residency with reality star Kendra Wilkinson.
Rodriguez sat down with People Chica to talk about a project the stands out from the rest in his life: he’s teaming up with Positively Fearless to educate the Latinx community about HIV and encourage gay and bisexual men to be fearless in taking charge of their health.
Tell us more about the movement Positively Fearless.
Positively Fearless is a great new movement that is really celebrating the bravery of black and Hispanic homosexual and bisexual men, who are embracing their HIV status by getting themselves checked, getting themselves treated and committing to staying on that treatment. In the past ten years, HIV infection rates have gone down in the United States, except for in the Latinx community of men who identify as gay or bisexual.
How do you personally connect to the movement?
When I was 16, my aunt died of AIDS, and my cousin passed away as well. [My aunt] became one of the first women on Long Island to have the disease and I watched that unfold during my high school [years], and my mom and I became the primary caretakers. Long behold, two years later, I booked my first Broadway show, which was Rent and I’m playing an [HIV] positive character on Broadway for five years.
I could’ve been a statistic and granted that when I was coming up, I sadly got the firsthand experience of people passing, so it was a different experience for me.
What has made you comfortable in telling your family’s story?
Because other people aren’t. Because I watched my aunt go to the dentist when I was 16, I drove her there with my learner’s permit, and the doctor put on three pairs of gloves and [my aunt] looked at me with tears in her eyes because she felt disgusting. She felt like he treated her like a piece of trash. I’ll always remember that moment. And that was my family, that was the woman who got me into the arts, and she was a kind, loving, and wonderful person that didn’t need to be treated that way.
Are there any specific ways in which you’re educating the Latinx community?
If you go to positivelyfearless.com, there is a lot of great information and resources there. A big part of it is understanding that when it comes to HIV, you really want to stick to a schedule that makes sense to get yourself checked. If you do get diagnosed as positive, immediately go seek a healthcare provider that you feel comfortable with to discuss this.
With the failure of the Obamacare repeal bill, what is your opinion on all the health care news as an advocate for health in the HIV community?
That’s the conversation to be having right now: health care. I think that no matter what side of the aisle you stand on, ultimately we all know that everyone deserves great health care. Specific to our community, the fact is that we are having this resurgence, where we do need to be more proactive about our own community, being vocal about the specific needs.
It’s common in the Latinx community for gay teens to feel afraid to come out and talk about these topics, what advice do you have for parents and guardians in making it a comfortable space to do so?
I think this message is universal for what any parent might have to deal with something that they may not be comfortable hearing: you have a choice to make; do you love your child more than you being frightened of this thing that they’re sharing. Somewhere deep inside of you, even if you don’t understand it, you have to find a way to be compassionate because LGBTQ+ kids are far more likely to commit suicide or be bullied. It starts at the home. If the message they’re receiving at home is that they’re less and they’re not worthy, then they’re more inclined to make poor decisions, which may affect their sexual health in the long run.
To learn about the movement, visit positivelyfearless.com.