An Interview with “Ma Quinn”

Written by BLC Prevention and Education Specialist Caitlin O’Gallagher

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Pat Quinn, BLC member and guest blogger Rob Quinn’s mother. When I originally spoke with Rob about becoming a guest blogger for the BLC Soup, he came fully prepared with a ton of really interesting ideas for blog topics, one of which was to share the perspective of a family member of someone living with HIV. Having had the pleasure of learning about Rob’s story as a person living with HIV, I thought it would be invaluable to hear the story from another angle, from the person who Rob calls “his rock,” his mother Pat. Here is a look into the first half of our conversation:

Once we got our introductions out of the way, Pat began by reflecting on her experience of when Rob first told her about his HIV diagnosis. Her initial reaction was shock, she said, but regardless the first words out of her mouth were, “no matter what, I love you and you’re my son.” While Pat’s support for Rob was unwavering from the start, she reflected that misinformation and stigma from friends and family were not uncommon initially. Pat shared, “In the beginning, people would say how you could catch HIV from drinking out of cups and what not and people were always making cracks about gay people and people living with HIV.” She reflected that “so many of his friends called me ‘Ma’ because half of their mothers and families wanted nothing to do with them… Still not many people come out publicly about it.” Pat shared that things have definitely gotten better, especially with their family and friends, as things are “all good now.” However, in the very beginning stigma wasn’t unfamiliar to the Quinns, as is the same for many of our BLC members and their families. Despite Pat’s reflections being many years old, people receiving HIV diagnoses today often still face the same stigma that Pat remembers.

When I asked Pat what was most inspiring about all that Rob has done in his life, specifically the advocacy work that he has done for people living with HIV, she immediately shared that so many people want to hide, but Rob just goes out and shows his face as a person living with HIV. “I wouldn’t do that,” she said, “I give him so much credit.” She said that at first she was hesitant but then she said, “You know what? Go ahead,” because she knew Rob could make a difference and be a role model – plus she was just the kind of mother that chose to support him in everything he did.

When I asked her further about Rob being open about his status to help others, she mentioned that for a long time, when Rob was living in Springfield, he worked with youth at Commerce High School who were struggling with their sexual orientation and, for some of them, their HIV status. Pat shared that Rob went there and showed kids that it’s okay to be who you are and come out to the world as just that. Pat reflected that Rob always says if he can help just one person then he will be happy. When I asked Pat how she responds when Rob shares that, she said, “I’m just so proud.” Putting a face to HIV and being open about his status enables Rob to fight stigma every single day as well as serve as a support and role model for so many people, including those he may not even know personally. Even though Rob received his diagnosis and shared it with Pat years ago, stigma still remains. Rob’s willingness to put a face to HIV, and Pat’s willingness to support him in doing so, are both just as important today as they were two decades ago.

Tune back in next week to read the second half of my conversation with Pat!

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