Hydeia Broadbent, Who Devoted Her Life To AIDS Activism After Being Born With HIV, Dies At 39

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Black Women Ending HIV Hosted By Karen Civil

Activist Hydeia Broadbent attends the Black Women Ending HIV event at Bardot Restaurant on January 10, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Robin L Marshall / Getty

Hydeia Broadbent, an AIDS activist who was born with HIV and overcame that adversity to become a leading voice in the fight against the epidemic, died on Wednesday. She was 39.

Broadbent’s death was announced on social media by Rae Lewis-Thornton, who is also an AIDS activist and an author.

“I’m sad to announce that renowned AIDS Activist Hydeia Broadbent passed away today,” Lewis-Thornton posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Over the years our paths crossed so much we became friends. Rest my sister Rest. Your legacy will live forever. Good and faithful servant well done.”

Born addicted to drugs and adopted at six weeks old, Broadbent was diagnosed with HIV when she was three years old. Broadbent contracted the disease in utero. Doctors predicted she wouldn’t live past five, but Broadbent went on to exceed nearly all expectations and became an activist to raise awareness about the disease that she refused to let negatively define her life.

In a memorable moment, Broadbent appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show when she was 11 years old. Winfrey was overcome with emotion at Broadbent’s story of resilience and fortitude.

Later that same year, Broadbent was introduced globally at the 1996 Republican National Convention when she was just 12 years old and announced in a speech that made headlines: “I am the future, and I have AIDS.”

Ever since then, Broadbent had been working tirelessly to educate others on the infection’s impacts and prevention, particularly when it came to Black women.

“In order for Black women to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS, they must have these important conversations before becoming intimate,” Broadbent once said. “Matter of fact: Go together to get tested for STIs and HIV and make the person show you their results. No one is going to advocate for your health like you are, stop trusting people with your life before you even actually know the real person they are.”

Broadbent, who traveled the globe delivering lectures at universities and giving speeches at conferences about HIV/AIDS, left a lasting effect on those ith whom she crossed paths.

That includes NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who announced in 1991 that he had contracted HIV. That was about a year after doctors told Broadbent she had the same disease.

During a taping of a Nickelodeon AIDS Special that focused on informing youth that the virus can affect anyone, a 7-year-old Broadbent sat bravely near Johnson among a group of younger children sharing how hard it was for her to deal with negative perceptions of the virus and the teasing she experienced over it. Broadbent broke down and, fighting through her tears, told Johnson, “I want people to know that we’re just normal people.”

He put his massive hand on her tiny shoulder and told her, “Aww, you don’t have to cry. Because we are normal people. OK? We are.”

Twenty years later, the two reunited during a Los Angeles screening of “The Announcement,” a documentary about Johnson coming forward about his HIV status.

“Hydeia means the world to me,” Johnson said at the time. “When I first met her 20 years ago and saw how emotional and devastated she was by the treatment she was getting from other people, it just broke my heart into pieces. That very moment was both sad and inspirational. It made me want to do more to bring awareness to the disease and educate people so that no one would have to feel the way she did that day.”

Broadbent always said she was intentionally very straightforward when informing young people about how difficult it is to be HIV-positive. She said she was particularly troubled with today’s younger generation who she feels under-estimates the realities of being HIV-positive.

“I try to tell it as real as I can, that this isn’t a disease they want,” Broadbent said. “The current generation, they don’t know the reality of HIV/AIDS. They look at me and Magic Johnson and think you can pop a pill and be OK. They don’t know the seriousness of the disease. They don’t know the side effects of the medicine. They don’t know the financial realities of the situation. They really don’t know that you can die.”

Broadbent didn’t let HIV/AIDS ruin her personal life and frequently explained how she navigated dating and disclosing her health status.

“I have a three-date rule,” Broadbent said. “By the third date is when it’s time to let someone know—but a lot of people don’t start dating until after they have already had sex. You need to let your partner know before you take it that far.”

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