As friends, Kevin and Jim share a lot. They’re both proud theater nerds with a passion for acting—and they cheer each other on, whether they’re on stage or off. They attend each other’s performances, go on double dates with their partners. They’ve even gone on vacation together. But until recently, Kevin had no idea Jim was living with HIV.

The funny thing is, Jim’s status wasn’t a secret. “I definitely told people when I needed support,” says Jim. But since his HIV is well-managed with an effective treatment plan, Jim hasn’t felt an urgent need share that part of his life. Because living with HIV is a really small part of that life. “It’s funny, sometimes I go along assuming my friends know, and then they find out the day that I sort of casually say something.”

HIV in real life is being confident, being healthy, being aware and being open.

That’s what happened with Kevin. But it doesn’t mean Jim takes his friend’s support for granted. Because both Kevin and Jim have experienced the sting of stigma—and they know how important having people to turn to can be.

“Just even mentioning that you’re bisexual—everyone has these notions, these ideas and fears that they associate with it,” says Kevin. “So you have to overcome that. I know people who think they know me better than me, and that was really hard.”

Jim faced similar challenges. “It’s part of the territory to combat a lot of assumptions when you’re either HIV positive and/or part of the LGBT community,” says Jim. “I’ve had times in life where depression was an issue. I know what it felt like to not have that sense that people have your back. It just feels dark and you feel lonely and useless, really. It’s left a such a mark on me that really all the things that I do in life is try to create those places of belonging.”

“If I didn’t have a support system it would be a lot harder to navigate the world,” says Kevin. And that makes him want to be a real advocate for people living with HIV—in his own life and in his community. After all, as he recently discovered, you never know who might need your acceptance and support.

“I was one of those people who didn’t think it affected me,” says Kevin. “But odds are you probably do know somebody who is affected by it.”