My name is Justin Anantawan (@justin_anantawan) and I am a gay Chinese-Thai photographer living with HIV. I recently completed a photo project called “Stories of Life with HIV: A Queer Asian Perspective” in collaboration with Where Love is Illegal (@whereloveisillegal), Asian Community AIDS Services (@acastoronto) and The Community One Foundation (@c1foundation). The project took a year to complete and featured stories of 8 members of the ACAS community in Toronto.

I initiated this project because I felt that it was important to shed light on the diverse experiences of my peers and colleagues – participants included folks of Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean and Chinese descent. In Toronto, PHAs are a largely marginalized, stigmatized and underrepresented community. However, Queer Asian PHAs, especially newcomers, face the additional barriers such as lack of access to resources in their native language and social isolation. The aim of this project was to empower the participants to share their stories, raise awareness for challenges facing Queer HIV Positive Asians and show the community that our stories matter.

This project was valuable to me because it made me feel closer to my peers. As a Canadian-born person of Chinese and Thai descent, I have often felt like an imposter – I do not know the Thai or Chinese languages and I have still yet to visit my extended family in Thailand. Also, in my work as a photographer, I previously had done many stories on PHAs in Kenya and Gambia – however I had not photographed members of my own community. By interacting with the participants and listening to their stories I was able to gain a new perspective on what it means to be a Queer Asian PHA and draw parallels between their stories and mine. I also made a new group of friends who can relate to my experiences, love and support me.

I see this project as a time capsule. I hope that people, perhaps decades and perhaps centuries from now, will read these stories and use them to reflect on the achievements of Queer Asian PHAs from the past – and contemplate what will still need to be done to make life better for people living with HIV/AIDS.


“As a Canadian visually impaired Chinese living in Toronto with a diverse ethnic population, I still feel racism almost daily. Moreover, I also belong to the 2SLGBTQ community and have been living with HIV for over 35 years…

When I was first diagnosed with HIV in 1986, it was detrimental and heart breaking. At that time, living with HIV was a death sentence. I felt sadness and gradually became depressed knowing that I had only a few years to live…

At that time, I didn’t even know Asian Community AIDS Services existed. I depended mostly on some of the services from Aids Community of Toronto (ACT)…Now in 2023, there are many AIDS Services organizations that provide services to the community in Toronto and if you are newly diagnosed with HIV, you can get much better support and services compared to 1986….

Since 2011, I have been grateful to be a part time employee at ACAS as a Health Promotion Coordinator, where I design and develop educational workshops for ACAS clients while at the same time trying to secure funding for projects where we can engage, empower and develop skill building for our clients.”

HIV Toronto


“Being diagnosed HIV+ was the best and worst thing to ever happen to me. That is to say, nobody wants to live with disease, but I felt that after my diagnosis, my life was able to do a U-turn and get a second chance; a road to recovery. Growing up queer in the Church, I was taught that not only was being gay a sin, but AIDS was God’s punishment for being so. Being of mixed Chinese-Malaysian and Scottish Heritage, my mother and I were the only non-white parishioners. With that, you’ve got a perfect storm of self loathing and mental anguish. Despite all the years of religious trauma, I eventually came into my own as a proud, queer, bi-racial individual…

Before my diagnosis, I was lost and on a self destructive path. I was prioritizing partying, not taking care of my body and putting the bare minimum into my career. After working with my therapist to deal with the shame and trauma, I felt like I had been given a new lease on life. I do not know where I would be if I didn’t become HIV+. Now my career is flourishing, as are my personal relationships. In addition, I’m the healthiest I have ever been, both mentally and physically. It takes work and commitment, but the tools I have to combat the darkness have been game changers. I am no longer held back by the fear of failure and have embraced my new role as an agent of change. I am working towards building my voice and my platform to help people struggling with mental illness and HIV stigma, especially those within the AAPI/BIPOC community. I am aware how much more education and outreach my communities need in order to break the stigma of HIV and I am not afraid to fight for that. I am exactly who I was meant to be: a queer, HIV+, Bi-racial human being.”


“I have been living as a non-binary HIV positive Asian person for ten years. My experience has been lonely and fearful because of hiding my HIV status from other people. I have never told my family in Korea about my HIV status and I don’t know if I can ever will. My parents are not accepting me as a gay…

I figured out that I was non-binary when I came to Canada nine years ago.  I knew I was gender fluid but I never heard the term until I came to Canada and met people in the gay community…

I feel accepted by people in the poz Asian community and have a good support system – like Asian Community AIDS Services, Ontario Positive Asians and McEwan House. I just wish I was HIV negative and could live my life freely away from stigma – However this won’t happen not until a cure for HIV is found.  I believe it will happen someday.”



In the before time

Before everyone was PRePared

We all had to worry

In the before time

Before yoU equals yoU

Love was dangerous

In the before time

Before medication flowed

We waited on our health to wane

Poisoned, tainted

Made to hide

Survivors cursed

To live, to die

Bound and chained

Forever changed

Never normal from the start

Already racially mismatching

Birth-defected, demi-disabled

Eastern in a Western world

With tastes in love

Queer and bent…


Bestowed another…

another gift

another curse

another difference

another shame

another worry

another weight

Invisible illness for an invisible Asian…

Survived Tiger Mom and Dragon Dad

of the Criticism Jungle

On my own in strange new places

With strange new problems

Not wanted there

Not wanted here

All I know is your silence…

To myself I had to turn

None like me

I would learn

Eat your rice

Slurp your noodles

Take your medicine

Grain after grain

Bowl after bowl

Pill after pill

Every grain of rice

You must finish!

Every pill

Every day

You must finish!…

There by myself

In myself

I did see

The silver lining in adversity

The true gift of difference

It set me free.


“I grew up in Hong Kong in a family where my grandmother and mom are devout Buddhists. Being a queer person, I was drawn to buddhist philosophy as it actively promotes compassion and loving-kindness. While the term Buddha is used to describe those who have gained ultimate truth and realization, bodhisattvas refer to those whose goal is to liberate all sentient beings. As an East Asian settler living with HIV and an AIDS activist, I wanted my portrait to capture not only who I am, but that it pays homage to the bodhisattvas of the HIV/AIDS response: the global community of warrirors who have championed Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U), and a tribute to my late friend and mentor, poz BIPOC activist Derek Yee…

The hand-carved wooden statue of the Buddha is a precious keepsakeI I inherited from Derek. The relic represents the light and aura which Derek shared with his fellow peers living with HIV. Despite being a well-connected community activist and a long-time volunteer at Casey House, the world’s HIV-specialty hospital, he was denied admission to the hospital due to institutional policies ahead of the Easter Long Weekend in 2021. Unfortunately, Derek passed away on Easter Monday evening. In response to the injustice faced by Derek, members of the Poz BIPOC community created the award-winning short documentary, “Walking In These Shoes” as a tribute to his legacy. The film is also a call to action to Casey House to ensure that Poz BIPOC people can have coordinated access to 24/7/365 services and care.”


“I am Rodin Wu, born and raised in Taiwan, and now living in Toronto, Canada…

At the young age of 12, my inner voice told me I was gay and I could not resist the attraction to same-sex fellows. In my hometown of a rural area without any information about it, I innocently thought I was so alone in the world. In traditional Asian culture, being gay means one is not a complete man since he might not be able to marry a woman having children…

Approximately a decade ago, I was diagnosed HIV positive, which almost ruined my life. I seriously broke down and lay in the hospital bed for the psychotherapy clinic for a month. Refusing to take medicine for the first years was my way to deny the virus had coexisted within me. It was also a silent protest against all the labels and stigma no one deserves. However, this formed another layer of self-recognition. HIV discrimination exists everywhere, including in the LGBTQIA+ community…

Now I am a Tarot reader/teacher and a Kundalini Reiki master in Canada. There is a Tarot card named Death, which represents the end of anything. Being gay with HIV does not really put me to death, but the labels, discrimination, and stigma do! However, completely accepting who and what I really am, self-recognition, makes me reborn, which is also what the Death card denotes.”


My name is Efendy Efendy. I was born on May 10, 1980 in Bima, Indonesia. I am 43 years old and I identify as a gay man and a practicing Muslim…

As far back as I could remember, I always knew there was something different about me. I remember when I was 8 years old, feeling like I was attracted to the same sex. I hid this part of myself growing up because I understood that homosexuality wrong and that as a Muslim it is forbidden to be gay…

In September 2013, when I was living in Canada, I was hospitalized because of symptoms like coughing, shivering and migraines. I felt nauseous and was losing weight. I was eventually diagnosed as being HIV-positive…

I applied for status as a gay refugee and I had the court hearing for my case in September 2015. Before I walked into the room, I was scared and shaking. I felt like I was in a war, fighting for my life. When I was telling the judge my story, I cried because I was reliving past trauma. The judge listened to my story. After 30 minutes I was finished and I was told to leave the room. Fifteen minutes later, I was called back in and the judge told me congratulations, that I would be accepted into Canada. I was relieved and felt happy.

Since being accepted as a refugee in Canada, life has been better. I became a Canadian citizen in 2019. When I got my citizenship, I felt like I was born again….or in Asian terms, a reincarnation. I finally felt confident as a Canadian citizen. I live in Toronto and I regularly volunteer in my community with Asian Community AIDS Services. I help out at workshops and social events, clean the office, fundraise money and support other PHAs.