I'm a big fan of the singing competition The Voice on NBC. It got in my veins after season 2 semifinalist Jamar Rogers disclosed his HIV-positive status on the show. Apart from the talent of the contestants and the witty banter among the judges, what got me hooked were the blind auditions. The idea of vocal talent alone being the first barrier to the show feels right to me. Until the judges turn around to see who's singing, most of the performers are unsung heroes of a sort. Some get to tell their stories of struggling to make their dreams come true. For others, just auditioning is a triumph.
In many ways, this year's POZ 100 list has much in common with The Voice. The HIV/AIDS community has many heroes. Our best-known heroes range from celebrities and activists to politicians and researchers. As a gay Latino who has lived with the virus for more than 20 years, I'm grateful for all they've done over the past three decades. I may not have survived this far without their efforts.
Although they might not be as well-known, I believe that the overwhelming majority of our heroes are in our midst. They are the people on the front lines of the fight against HIV/AIDS. To honor their service to our community, POZ magazine has recognized these unsung heroes in our fourth annual list.
In past lists we've praised both people living with the virus and HIV-negative people. This year we asked individuals and organizations to focus their nominations on HIV-positive people who haven't gotten widespread recognition. People living with the virus often have a unique understanding of what needs to be done and how best to do it. They know what it's like to be newly diagnosed and how it feels to deal with HIV-related stigma and discrimination. They understand the challenges of accessing care, treatment and support. They realize that by sharing their stories, they are not only inspiring others living with the virus but empowering themselves and the HIV/AIDS community.
The people on this year's list may not consider themselves heroes, but we do. Each person, in his or her own way, is taking a brave stand against the virus. They are fighting back. They do so not because they're seeking glory or accolades but because fighting back is a means to their survival.
The list includes people of all ages, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations from across the United States and Puerto Rico, at organizations large and small. It comprises a variety of careers, from bloggers and advocates to doctors and educators, and spans across many diverse populations affected by the virus.
Although their contributions certainly merit the attention, we by no means present these 100 people as the only ones deserving recognition. They are stand-ins for the countless unsung heroes in our HIV/AIDS community. Celebrating the honorees on this year's POZ 100 should be an exercise in applauding all unsung heroes.
Since 1994, POZ has entertained and educated our readers and our community. This year's POZ 100 has turned that around, allowing our readers and our community to entertain and educate us. We strive to provide hope in every issue of the magazine, but putting together this year's list gave us hope.
The people we spotlight on this year's POZ 100 have the power and the passion to effect change in the world. We hope their stories inspire you as much as they've inspired us. Go to poz.com/100 to read more. Also, stay tuned for a HuffPost POZ 100 slideshow on World AIDS Day, commemorated every year on Dec. 1.