Linton Walker is 35 years old. He came out at the age of 21 and was diagnosed just a year later as HIV-positive at 22.

Living in Atlanta in the late 2000s, he says he was unaware of the high level of risk being in a city with such a large LGBTQ community and, he is quick to confirm, he was not very well educated on safe sex practices and the dynamics of HIV in general.

After an epidemic that at that time had lasted more than two decades, it begs the question, why? 

Walker’s response: “I was just not informed. I don’t think enough attention was given to it, certainly not in my high school health class, which touched on sex education, but I don’t think anyone in the class took it seriously and it went in one ear and out the other.

“I was also young. I was only 22 and I guess I was gullible and didn’t always make the best decisions. “Sometimes I let other people make choices for me. I had sex several times, unprotected, with several people. There was and still is a lot of stigma attached to HIV. People don’t want to have that conversation and take responsibility.”

A message in fashion: HIV Lives Matter. Courtesy Linton Walker

That leads us to Walker’s venture into entrepreneurship and creating his own line of clothing and adult accessories. Technically, he’s launched two very different product lines: HIV Positive Lives Matter, a selection of t-shirts with messages designed to destigmatize HIV, and Unapologetically Positive, a line of adult accessories and general use goods, also designed to take his efforts a step further by removing the stigma between and against HIV-positive individuals.

Excited about an upcoming trunk show February 12 (2 p.m. – 4 p.m.) at White Rabbit in Plaza-Midwood, Walker is anxious to share details about his clothing and accessories and the journey that brought him to where he is today.

Qnotes: Tell us about your line of products. 

Linton Walker:  I started off with a line of clothing, focusing on message t-shirts, called HIV Lives Matters, that I put up for sale online. Obviously, I was inspired by Black Lives Matters. I wanted people to understand that with the ‘HIV Lives Matter’ shirts, the ‘Got Tested’ shirts and the ‘HIV Undetectable’ shirts, they are something that can allow you to stand in your truth and be proud of who you are. Unapologetically Positive is something different, and I try not to be vulgar when I talk about it even though my line is out there a little bit <laughs>. We’ve got male units that are transparent and almost nine inches, silicone-based pleasure pockets water-based lube, masks and titanium bottles that keep your water cold and your coffee hot.

QN: I know from our conversation that you had a ‘regular job’ before. What prompted you to go out on a limb and get creative?

LW: I’ve always wanted to do what I’m doing now, but I was too afraid or I didn’t have the finances to do exactly what I wanted to. I had saved an [adequate amount] of money in my bank account, and I knew there was nothing standing in the way of my dream, so I asked myself why not? If not now then when? If I don’t do this now, then when? I had this idea five years ago, so I realized it was time. And I took my own savings and invested them into the line.

QN: Did you design everything yourself?

LW: Everything you see here was designed by me. I worked with a company called Alibaba and contracted with individual designers to create the line of products. They were able to customize the product to my specifications and I worked with them directly to make sure that my designs were as I requested. I would give them a vision of what I wanted to see and then they would give me examples until I saw the specific level of quality I wanted it to be. I designed it and they created it.

QN: What sent you on a path of marketing specifically to the HIV-positive community?

LW: I’ve always been an open book. When I found out that I was HIV-positive, I wanted to share my story. My ups and downs, my highs and lows. So when I shared my story [on social media] I realized that people began to follow me and would send me messages directly to my inbox telling me their stories and asking for words of encouragement. There were a lot of people who needed to get tested but were afraid to do it and other people who needed to be tested but just didn’t want to do it. Some people weren’t sure how to handle their emotions and others didn’t know how the news would impact their lives or their family situation. I’m not a professional person, I’m not a therapist. I can only speak from my experience. I can only speak from my heart as a person that is HIV positive and undetectable.

Hearing other people’s stories and sharing mine with them I realized so many of shared the same struggles and I wanted a way to get our messages and stories out there.

Time to erase the stigma: another one of Walker’s personally designed t-shirts. Courtesy Linton Walker

QN: Do you think the stigma attached to HIV today is as bad as it was 20 years ago, when you were diagnosed?

LW: For many the stigma is still there even inside the community. Some people will not date you if you are HIV positive. I kissed a guy once before I told him I was HIV-positive and I thought he wanted to beat me up. There was another guy that I was really sincerely interested in and I hadn’t told him about my HIV status yet. When I did he rejected me because he said he didn’t want to date someone who was HIV positive. There’s definitely still a lot of stigma attached to people who are HIV positive, when they desire love or need love and they’re navigating through this world trying to find it. You’re afraid of rejection and this is where shame and hiding your own truth comes in. Because of the stigma attached to it even now, not all people are in a place where they can have a conversation about HIV. A lot of people just don’t want to talk about it and a lot of people don’t think about it. No matter whether they’re having protected or unprotected sex they just don’t want to get tested. My line of clothing is designed to push the envelope and make people talk about and think about when was the last time you were tested? We’re not having the conversation, and I feel like that’s where we’re going wrong as a people. It all starts with a conversation. 

QN: Ultimately, what is your goal and message, and what do want most to achieve with your products?

LW: The lines are dedicated to those who are HIV-positive and our allies. I want them to be like a confidence booster. It’s to show you and tell you that you are the shit. You don’t have to doubt yourself. Know that your life and your dreams and your goals matter. That’s how I feel know, and it took me awhile to get there. I will celebrate 12 years of life after HIV February 2. That was my diagnosis date. Just because you’re positive, don’t allow other people to knock you out of the race. You can still have so many of the same experiences that other people have, you just have to be responsible.

David Aaron Moore

David Aaron Moore is a former editor of Qnotes, serving in the role from 2003 to 2007. He is currently the senior content editor and a regularly contributing writer for Qnotes. Moore is a native of North...

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