Choosing to be a survivor: Why this man with HIV is sharing his story

A terrifying assault in 2007 changed Eric Cashmore’s life forever. The Sudbury man was in Toronto when he was sexually assaulted by a group of people.

Saturday is World AIDS Day

Eric Cashmore, who is HIV positive, says people living with the virus face stigma. (Jan Lakes/CBC)

A terrifying assault in 2007 changed Eric Cashmore's life forever. The Sudbury man was in Toronto when he was sexually assaulted by a group of people.

"I just remember waking up covered in my own blood," he said.

"There was an elderly woman there telling me to stay on the ground. I actually thought I was shot."

As a result of that assault, Cashmore contracted the HIV virus. After the assault, he says he very quickly turned to substance abuse and eventually ended up living on the streets.

"Drugs for me were a way to facilitate doing sex work which is how I survived," he said.

Eventually, he made the decision to make some changes in his life. He started volunteering with an AIDS service organization.

"I realized very quickly I could live in my view, one of two lives: I can be a survivor or I can be a victim," he said.

"Being a victim wasn't working out for me. So I decided to take the other route and become a survivor. Through that decision, I've been helping a lot of people living with HIV."

Stigma still exisits

Cashmore says overall, he's healthy.

"The medications I'm taking are very effective," he said. "I have an undetectable viral load."

However, Cashmore says the stigma still exists for people living with HIV and AIDS. He says he gets mixed reactions when he tells people he is HIV positive.

"I've been assaulted for it," he said. "I've literally had people punch me in the face when I've told them."

Despite that, he says he's privileged he can talk openly about his diagnosis.

"As a white guy, I experience a lot of privilege," he said.

"With my privilege comes some safety. If I was an active sex worker on the street, say a single woman with kids, I probably wouldn't be sitting in this chair talking."

Saturday is World AIDS Day. Cashmore says he is willing to share his story so openly to help give others a voice.

"People living with HIV often fall into other marginalizations," he said.

"Folks who are street involved, Indigenous people, women, women who do sex work, injection drug users — these are marginalized communities already. When you throw HIV into the mix, you're further marginalizing these people."