For fashion designer Mondo Guerra, finding out he was HIV positive 15 years ago took him to a dark moment in his life, however now he uses his experience to help others get through their tough times — all while using his love for creativity.
Guerra was diagnosed with HIV when he was 23 years old while living in New York City and although he said he hit rock bottom when he found himself dying in a hospital bed from pneumonia back home in Denver, he is now a passionate advocate for HIV treatment and awareness.
The fashion designer is working with the “I Design” national campaign that aims to help empower individuals living with HIV to speak up and have open and honest discussion with their doctor to address issues and also find out available help.
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“Everybody has a different situation and everybody has their story and I think it’s very important for people to share their story and behind every story there is a power,” Guerra said.
For Guerra, the importance of opening up about being HIV positive is very personal because for close to a decade he kept his diagnosis to himself out of what he says was embarrassment and fear.
He said that he kept the truth from his loved ones but still continued to try to be creative with his design work as a way to bring some ease to his hard times.
“I was continuing to work and be creative but there was a point where I was pushing that away out of my life and that’s when I got really scared,” Guerra said. “When I wasn’t talking about my situation, I wasn’t allowing people to not only support me but to love me.”
Guerra finally decided to open up about his diagnosis while as a contestant on season 8 of Bravo’s “Project Runway” after realizing that holding onto the truth was not allowing him to be fully respect his creative work as a designer.
“Ever since I was a kid I have always been creative, it has always been my escape, it has allowed me to breathe,” he said. “When I was on that runway I was sharing my work and I wasn’t being honest about the message and there was a month that I thought to myself that if I’m not going to talk about this right now and not share the message behind my work, then I am disrespecting myself.”
Guerra said that although he was excited after sharing his emotional story on national television, he then got scared about how people would react but instead was met with a pouring amount of support and positive feedback that became a “life changer” for him.
For the past five years, the designer — who went off to win "Project Runway All Stars" —has been speaking to others who have also been diagnosed with HIV and said he understands that everyone deals with the news differently but the importance is to start that first conversation with someone.
He said that hearing other people’s stories inspires him and makes him want to work harder to advocate for the campaign, which in the end pushes him to continue being creative as a designer.
Guerra said he is feeling better than ever and as he makes his return to the Big Apple he has also been asked to be a judge at the 2016 NYC Pride March.
Although he lived in New York City for 15 years he said he never went to the parade before but now is super excited to be a part of it.
He will be judging the floats and parade participants — dressed in an outfit he said looks like a “kaleidoscope pinwheel” — and as a designer he said it is very important to judge on originality.
Guerra added that he wants to see how everyone interprets this year’s theme of “Equality Needs You” especially in light of the tragic Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting.
And though he said that following the June 12 shooting he was initially afraid to leave his house for three days and it was difficult to process, he believes it is important for people to show up to Sunday’s march and show that fear will never win.
“It’s just about showing up and participating,” he said.” This is a really great opportunity to become stronger.”