I’m Janelle Luster born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, 24 years old, I was diagnosed in March of 2012. At the time that I was diagnosed my house caught fire (my closet at that) and I didn’t have a regular job, no money saved. I was involved in sex work. I was abusing drugs. Life was really ugly for me. The list goes on. But the point is that at the time I was diagnosed, I didn’t think it could get worse. In April, 2012 my baby brother was gunned down on the corner of the block we grew up on, I never had a chance to disclose to him. I was really mad, just mad. I wanted someone to feel my pain, I wanted to give my pain to someone. I lived in darkness for 3 years, struggling to stay undetectable, struggling to keep a job and bouncing from couch to couch waiting and hoping to die.
Fast-forward, I get married to my longtime friend James in April, 2015. James loves me so much that I start to love myself again. I started to take my health serious, I started attending support groups @ W.O.R.L.D (HIV centered) and that’s where it happened. That’s where I found strength and my voice. There were women that had been living with HIV for 20+ years, and still going, still living and spreading hope to a younger generation like myself. I had never shared my story (always read others on this site), but they created a safe place for me to do so, which prompted me to always be a safe place for others. I knew that I could make it if these women made it through times harder than they are now. I know I can make it. I just have to do the work. I shared this small piece of my story just to say that things do get better, and to just keep your head held high because you don’t want to miss your opportunity for greatness.
I became a volunteer advocate for HIV in 2015, going around protesting for lower drug prices, for the needs of PLWHIV, speaking at council meetings, on topics related to HIV, and the importance of Trans resources, Trans Awareness, Trans Respect.
I am now the Outreach and Linkage Specialist for W.O.R.L.D (Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Diseases).
Why Janelle wants to be part of A Girl Like Me: I believe that sharing stories and uplifting each other is very important. There are so many people who have not found their voice yet, but by reading the entries of all of us they will get the courage to overcome their diagnosis, and not let the stigma of being a PLWHIV take over their life. When I was first diagnosed I was told about this community of powerful women and I started reading the stories of others going through the same things as me, and I knew I wasn’t alone. I want to continue to give back in any way that i can.