Bob Poe, a Democratic candidate for an open congressional seat in central Florida, revealed on Thursday that he is HIV positive.
Poe, 61, a former businessman who helped start the Orlando Magic NBA team and once chaired the Florida Democratic Party, made the disclosure in a video posted to his Facebook page, and in an interview with Watermark magazine, which focuses on the LGBT community in Florida.
The announcement is a sign of major progress in the struggle of HIV-positive Americans to be publicly accepted. If elected to represent the 10th Congressional District, Poe apparently would be the first member of Congress openly living with the virus.
Poe said he shared his diagnosis in order to help “remove the fear and the stigma and the shame that goes with” HIV, factors that often prevent people from getting proper testing and treatment.
“I have a motto in my life: ‘If you want to make a difference, you have to be the difference,’” Poe said. “And so today, I am trying to be the difference in this community so that we can begin to solve this problem, once and forever.”
Poe, who is openly gay, said he decided to go public after a conversation with a woman in his community who expressed despair at learning that she had the virus that causes AIDS.
The woman “thought she had a death sentence,” Poe recounted. “I told her that she didn’t, and I even shared with her where she could go get the resources that she needed.
“But I really just wanted to hug her and let her know that she wasn’t alone because I too had HIV, but I was still hung up in the fear and the stigma that surrounds this condition,” Poe added.
Poe said he contracted HIV in 1998 and remains in good health, thanks to early detection and treatment. Until Thursday's announcement, only family members knew about his condition, Poe said.
“My doctors tell me that in all likelihood I am going to die of a ripe old age of something very normal,” Poe said.
Poe is running a progressive campaign, pushing for a $15 minimum wage and gun-safety measures. He faces a crowded field in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary. Opponents include state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, ex-Orlando police Chief Val Demings and lawyer Fatima Fahmy.
The 10th District became heavily Democratic after a state judge redrew district boundaries to comply with an amendment to the state constitution barring politically motivated gerrymandering. The incumbent, GOP Rep. Daniel Webster, is running in a neighboring district.
Prior to getting involved in politics, Poe achieved success as an entrepreneur, according to his campaign web site. He has a daughter, Virginia, and lives with his spouse, Ken Brown, in Orlando, according to the site.