Young Political Activist Comes Out Publicly About HIV Status
He's a fresh new face on the Florida political scene - with a brave story to tell.
Meet Aaron Darr, 23, a self described "warrior for the middle class" who calls Largo, Fla. home. He is also gay and HIV positive and very open about both.
"I want to start a dialogue," Darr said about disclosing his HIV status. "And I want to do it before the other side tries to define me as some dying AIDS patient."
Darr is far, far from that. He is energetic, cheerful, loves to talk politics and is intent on making a difference. He describes himself as a "Clinton Democrat" and is flirting with the idea of running for either the Florida House of Representatives or U.S. Congress in his adopted home of Pinellas County, a district he calls "bellweather" in national politics.
"I woke up one morning and realized that I can't sit on the sidelines anymore because there are too many in the state of Florida that are hurting right now," said Darr, who added he will likely decide about which office to pursue in November.
In the meantime, Darr is giving interviews to news outlets across the globe about his story of struggle, survival and, ultimately, success. He grew up in Ohio, raised by a single mother.
"My father was abusive," he said. "My mother worked two jobs so I had to learn how to cook and clean and take care of myself early."
He realized he was gay early too, coming out when he was 13. Later, during his junior year in high school, he tested positive for HIV.
"I was completely devastated," Darr recalls. "I was scared from what I knew of HIV. I had thought my life was going to end like the character Angel in the musical 'Rent.' I was just completely devastated."
But Darr battled back, went on medication, moved to New York City and began to live. He majored in musical theater at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy and performed on Broadway, all the while volunteering on numerous political campaigns, chief among them, Hillary Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign.
"The struggles I had gone through being raised by a single mom were the struggles I knew Senator Clinton understood," Darr said. "I knew she would fight for middle class families."
Darr says his story is a source of personal strength as he navigates the political terrain here in Florida. He moved to the Sunshine State in 2012 and immediately connected with progressive groups. He revealed his HIV status recently in an interview with the website Queerty.com in an effort to rid himself of any "skeletons in the closet."
"It was like coming out all over again," he said.
Darr said he has received much support in recent weeks and is hoping he can further educate society on HIV, while reaching out to a younger generation.
"I do feel I had lacked the information necessary to protect myself as a teenager," he said.
"In Ohio, there are those who believe that keeping men, women and children in ignorance of reproductive healthcare, contraceptives and information that children would and should learn at a young age about the ways they can protect themselves, isn't something that should be included in education in public schools."