When Otis Harris Jr. first received an e-mail about I'm Positive, a World AIDS Day special co-executive-produced by Dr. Drew Pinsky, he dismissed it - as well as the second e-mail. By the time a third person had forwarded info, Harris thought maybe this was worth looking into.
"At first, I was like, 'What is this? I don't need to pay attention to this'," Harris says during a brief phone interview. "And then I was like, 'This thing is too good to be true,' and I guess I got kind of scared. But by the third time, I was like, 'You know what? Let's just do it.' "
Harris, who lives in Dallas, is one of three people living with HIV who are featured in the special, which will premiere at 6 p.m. Saturday on MTV and MTV Tr3s. I'm Positive also follows Kelly, a young California woman with boyfriend problems that aren't wholly connected with her being HIV-positive; and Stephanie, a North Carolina woman living an energetic social life. After the show, Pinsky will have a panel discussion with the three participants on MTV.com.
As for Harris, he's shown with his boyfriend, Kanjhe, as they hang out in Dallas and with Harris' family, a close-knit group that Harris had difficulty telling about his condition. Even three decades after AIDS and HIV started making headlines in the United States, there are still misconceptions about people with HIV, and one of the reasons Harris agreed to appear in the special was to help clear up some of the misconceptions.
"People [still] don't know how it's transmitted," Harris says. "They feel like I'm very contagious. And then when people find out that I am HIV-positive, they say, 'Wow, well you don't look like it.' "
HIV is transmitted via unprotected sex, intravenous drug use and in some other ways, which are explained here, along with ways in which it's not transmitted.
"People aren't educated," Harris says, "and they're just going off the stigma of what others are claiming [HIV] to be."
Although Harris' family has been very supportive, even they had some misconceptions at first.
"When I first told my dad, my dad thought I was going to die," Harris says. "He was waiting for me to tell him how long I had to live. They thought I was going to be real sick and that I wasn't going to be here. But then once I educated them and gave them the knowledge that I had, they were like, 'OK, you know what? We're going to make sure we help you take care of yourself'."
Not long before Harris called in, he visited the White House. "It still hasn't hit me yet," Harris says. "But it was an honor to be in the room with such important people and knowing that you were inside of it." But he didn't meet President Obama. "I was waiting for him to walk in at any minute," he says with a chuckle.
Here's a brief video featuring Otis: