Todd grew up in a family with strong parents who were loving and supportive. From a very early age Todd knew he was adopted and felt proud to be loved and wanted. It was this knowledge that helped drive him to accomplish what he set his mind to. He was involved in church, school and the community, but he always felt “different” from the other kids. When high school started, he didn’t want to hide anymore. He was terrified to tell those close to him but knew he needed to be himself. Suspicions grew at school that he was gay. Taunts turned into daily abuse and by his junior year he signed out of public school.
Angry that he had to give up his education he was determined to educate himself. He moved to New York City and worked in a dental office by day and educated himself in accounting and economics by night. Todd found himself and a sense of freedom. In the city that never sleeps, Todd was sure that he had found the man of his dreams but he realized that he didn’t know how to talk to his partner about sex and protection. He wasn’t given the information and hadn’t taken the time to find it on his own. He stopped using protection out of fear that his partner would think he didn’t trust him and Todd considered it his ultimate expression of love.
The relationship ended and Todd was ready to move on. He moved across the country and into a home with people who understood and supported him. On World AIDS Day 2001 his best friend asked him to go with him to get an HIV test. Todd wasn’t planning to get tested himself because he didn’t feel he was at risk and thought he didn’t look like HIV, but the nurse persuaded him to take the test. Leaving the clinic, he didn’t give the test a second thought.
Two weeks later Todd found out the news that would change his life forever–-he was HIV positive. Devastation, confusion, anger, regret and isolation quickly filled Todd’s mind. He was afraid of himself and his mind was filled with thoughts of getting sick and dying. “I’m not sure what changed. Maybe I was tired of feeling sorry for myself and I certainly didn’t feel or look any different than I did before. When I was growing up I didn’t see anyone who was living, not dying, with HIV. I was driven to change the way my peers looked at and talked about the disease. I had worked too hard to let this diagnosis stop me from accomplishing my goals. I wasn’t going to tolerate being stigmatized in my life,” said Todd. He got out of bed and started living his life again.
Todd read that half of new HIV infections were in young people under the age of 25, yet he still felt alone and isolated. He started to share his story with family, friends and strangers and found that his story had a great impact. He knew that the world needed to see the faces, hear the voices and learn the stories of those who were living with the disease — all without using fear.
Today, Todd is the President and Founder of Hope’s Voice. “It was clear to me that stigma and discrimination affects communities that are often misunderstood by young people. It was with this reality that I decided that Hope’s Voice should be a platform for young people to share their stories.” Todd’s commitment to the struggles and accomplishments of young people has provided an international platform and today Hope’s Voice is working in communities and countries around the world.
“I hope that with my story and the work of Hope’s Voice it will motivate young people to get out in their community and make a social change that is needed.”