Young man finds new hope after HIV diagnosis

December 6, 2013

By Katie Mingle

(Photo courtesy of StoryCorps)
Justin Kelly shared his story at Chicago House with his friend Michelle Dunigan.

When Justin Kelly came out to his adoptive mother, she sent him away.

But after he found out he was HIV positive two years ago, he finally found support—and a new outlook—through Chicago House, a social services agency for those affected by HIV and AIDS.

Kelly—who’s also known by his drag moniker, Amber St. James—shared his story at Chicago House with friend Michelle Dunigan.

"When I turned 12, I was starting to come to the conclusion that I was gay," Kelly said. "So what my mother did, she asked me, 'So do you like men?' she just asked me. I said, 'I don’t know.' So she sent me away. She sent me to an all-boys Christian camp to hide me away."

StoryCorps’s mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. This excerpt was edited by WBEZ.

Kelly said he didn’t learn the lesson his adoptive mother intended. He became even more sure he liked boys, and picked up some handy survival skills to boot. Then his mother sent him to foster care. 

A few years ago, he learned he was HIV positive.

"I cried the entire way home, bawling out, crying like I found out someone was shot," he said. 

To find out how Kelly’s mother reacted, and about his hopes for his future, listen to the audio above.

Katie Mingle is a producer for WBEZ and the Third Coast Festival. Follow her on Twitter @katiemingle.