Speaking

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Shawn and Gwenn

Shawn is HIV positive- Gwenn is HIV negative. Together, they use their relationship as a platform to discuss the difficult issues surrounding sexual health. Using humor and candor the couple addresses the importance of STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) testing, stigma, disclosure and how they maintain a healthy relationship.

Over the last two decades, Shawn and Gwenn have shared their story at hundreds of colleges and universities, as well as health conferences. In addition to answering questions face-to-face with audiences, they have also educated people through media outlets such as MTV, the BBC, HBO films, CNN.com, POZ Magazine and Cosmopolitan.

The strength of their message comes from their own experiences in dealing with HIV.

Shawn, a hemophiliac, acquired HIV through tainted blood products at age 7. He was initially expelled by his school in rural Virginia when his status became known and his parents were told that Shawn had six-months-to-two years to live when he was 11.

But, as the years passed, Shawn defied those grim expectations and the possibility of a normal life became less remote. He began confronting some of the same issues that most teenagers confront: he wondered just where he fit into the grand scheme of dating.

Soon after high school, Shawn went public with his secret by posting one of the internet’s first HIV-positive authored websites. He wrote columns for POZ Magazine and became a nationally recognized AIDS activist, infusing a great sense of humor with prevention and awareness issues. He was invited to the White House on World AIDS Day.

Shawn was happy with his newfound comfort in living with HIV, but had mixed results in the dating world.

Then he met Gwenn Barringer. A fellow HIV educator, Gwenn studied the issue in college and volunteered for the local AIDS Service Organization. Her interest was sparked by a young women with HIV who spoke to her sorority in college. When Gwenn was looking for a speaker with HIV in her community that could connect with a young audience, a mutual friend introduced her to Shawn. The two quickly fell in love, and were encouraged by their peers to educate together; to shine a light on the inner-workings of a real, loving relationship that just so happens to include HIV, an oft-misunderstood medical condition.

Shawn and Gwenn’s story is both a history lesson as well as an eye-opening revelation on what’s happening today. Through Shawn’s experiences in the late-80s, to the advent of medications that saved his life in the 90s, Shawn and Gwenn guide audiences through their fascinating journey. They open every talk to Q&A so their program addresses each audiences’ individual needs. Best of all, they approach each opportunity to educate with warmth, openness and a personal connection to the issue that is both inclusive and unforgettable. 

Some of the places where Shawn and Gwenn have shared their story: The University of Virginia, Yale, Sacred Heart University, Hillsborough Community College, The University of Northern Iowa, Bucknell University, Virginia Tech, The University of California Santa Barbara