LeRoy Whitfield, 36, a writer who focused on the battle against AIDS among Black Americans, died Oct. 9 after living 15 years with HIV while refusing to take medication.
Whitfield, a Chicago native who was a contributor to Vibe magazine, died in a Manhattan hospital of AIDS-related complications, according to the Associated Press. His 'homegoing' was held Oct. 14 at Chicago's Sweet Holy Spirit Church.
After being diagnosed with HIV in 1990, Whitfield shunned the use of antiretroviral drugs, whose possible side effects range from fatigue and nausea to blurred vision.
However, toward the end of his life, he expressed doubts about his decision. 'My T-cell count has plummeted to 40, a dangerously all-time low, and my viral load has spiked to 230,000. I've argued against taking meds for so many years that now ... I find it hard to stop,' he wrote recently in HIV Plus magazine. 'I keep weighing potential side effects against the ill alternative—opportunistic infections—and I can't decide which is worse to my mind. I just can't decide.' The title of that last column, according to The Advocate, was 'A Prayer for the Dying.'
Whitfield used his personal experiences, including relationships with both men and women, to discuss larger issues surrounding the disease. The Associated Press noted that he linked AIDS among Blacks with public housing, poverty and violence, and he stated that those factors contributed to the rise of HIV in the Black community.
However, he disagreed with the idea that AIDS was a white conspiracy to spread the disease among Blacks.
Whitfield attended the University of Chicago and DePaul University. He then worked as an associate editor at the Chicago-based Positively Aware and as a community educator for Positive Voice, an AIDS awareness organization. He moved to New York in 2000, contributing to Vibe and becoming a senior editor at POZ, a magazine aimed at HIV-positive people. According to The Indianapolis Star, Michael W.E. Edwards, the editor of HIV Plus, said that Whitfield's column was one of the magazine's most popular features because of the candor with which he shared his own fight against HIV.
'He was unusually committed to exposing the truth about AIDS in the Black community, and he was unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom,' commentator Keith Boykin wrote on his Web site.