10 years ago, Sharon Paul found out she was HIV-Positive.
But rather than keep it private, Paul decided to share her status, in the hopes of educating others about the disease.
As Joy Hollowell tells us, the Hampden woman is now being recognized nationally for her efforts.
“Around the middle of October, I got an email saying that I was chosen,” says Sharon Paul. “And I was like- Is this for real?”
It was. The national magazine, POZ named Paul among its 100 unsung heroes in the fight against AIDS.
“It’s very humbling for me,” says Paul. “Because I work so hard to get the word out that- Wow, people do listen,” she says laughing. “They do listen to what I say.”
Paul found out she was HIV positive a decade ago. She says she contracted the virus from a man she’d been in a serious relationship with.
“At first, I didn’t know what people were going to think about it,” says Paul. “Because it’s such a bag stigma, HIV.”
Even her mother was against Paul sharing her status.
“My mom didn’t want me to tell anybody,” says Paul. “You know, it’s like I have to, I just have to because it just felt wrong not to.”
Several months later, she joined the Eastern Maine Aids Network in Bangor as an educator and outreach coordinator.
“She’s the face of EMAN most of the time,” explains Sean Weber, program manager for EMAN.
Paul tells her story to anyone who will listen, particularly high school and college students as well as those in her Native American community.
“People feel comfortable enough to come in and actually say, ‘I’m here because Sharon talked to my class and I would really like to have a test,'” says Weber.
As for the national recognition, Paul admits it’s a bit overwhelming.
“I don’t see it as being a hero,” says Paul, tearing up. “But yeah, I guess I’m getting kind of used to it,” she adds with a smile.
Two other Mainers were named to POZ magazine’s top 100 list of unsung heroes. One is from Lewiston, the other from Portland.
You can check out the December issue online at http://www.poz.com/archive/2013_Dec_2806.shtml