The child activist who helped wake up the world to the reality of living with AIDS

Hydeia Broadbent at 11 years old in a 1996 appearance on the Oprah Winfery Show
Hydeia Broadbent in a 1996 appearance on "The Oprah Winfery Show" at 11 years old Photo: Screenshot

Hydeia Broadbent was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 3. The doctor said she wouldn’t make it to 5. Instead, she lived a full and impactful life until she passed away in February at the age of 39.

Broadbent not only survived; she thrived, transforming her personal challenges into a powerful platform for awareness and change. Her courage and determination helped steer the conversation about HIV/AIDS, breaking down stigmas every step of the way. 

Born on June 14, 1984, Broadbent contracted HIV through mother-child transmission and was abandoned at a hospital in Las Vegas. She was adopted at 6 weeks old. Her biological mother suffered from drug addiction and was eventually diagnosed with HIV after she gave birth to another baby. When both she and the infant tested positive for the virus, the hospital contacted Broadbent’s adoptive parents.

Patricia and Loren Broadbent, who provided her with a loving and supportive home, signed her up for a research trial in hopes of finding a treatment that would work.

But at five, she developed symptoms of an AIDS-like fungus in her brain, as well as blood infections and pneumonia. She became one of the first pediatric patients to receive AZT and other antiretroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, which helped her overcome continual health struggles and outlive her projected life expectancy.

She spent her life speaking about her experiences, becoming the face of children living with AIDS in America and one of the youngest HIV/AIDS activists at the time.

She was 6 years old the first time she spoke publicly about her condition through the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). Glaser had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion during childbirth in 1981. They met while Broadbent was undergoing treatment at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In 1992, at age 7, she made her first national appearance in a Nickelodeon TV special titled A Conversation with Magic Johnson alongside the special’s namesake, who had recently announced he tested positive for HIV. Teary-eyed Broadbent told the audience, “I want people to know that we’re just normal people.” From their her influence skyrocketed, and she became a frequent speaker at schools, churches and HIV/AIDS events. 

She later gained global recognition when she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show at age 11 in 1996, where she told Oprah that the hardest part of living with HIV was watching her friends die.

 “No one knows how long anybody’s going to live,” she said. “I don’t tell myself ‘Oh, you have AIDS,’ or ‘I could go outside and get hit by a bus tomorrow.’ If you stay in your bed and feel sorry for yourself, and don’t get up with the birds and just sit there and say ‘I’m going to die,’ why get up and try to make a difference?”

 “But when you say today’s another day, I can get up, I can do something then you make something positive.”

Broadbent’s powerful message captivated the audience and ignited a nationwide conversation, bringing much-needed attention to the realities of living with HIV/AIDS. She had officially become a prominent voice in the fight against the disease, especially among young people. Her openness and honesty shattered stereotypes, challenged stigmas, and fostered a greater understanding and empathy for those living with HIV/AIDS.

In 1996, at age 12, she spoke at the Republican National Convention and told the crowd: “I am the future, and I have AIDS.” 

As an adult, Broadbent continued to educate future generations about HIV/AIDS. She was a vocal proponent of HIV prevention strategies and increasing awareness about treatments. She encouraged abstinence, condom use, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and other safe sex practices. She heavily emphasized the importance of regular HIV testing as a crucial step in preventing the spread of the virus and ensuring early diagnosis and access to care. In a 2011 interview with CNN at age 28, she declared, “Even though I love my life, it’s not easy having AIDs. And I don’t want anyone else to go through that.”

Broadbent’s impact extends beyond her advocacy. She was also involved in research studies and clinical trials, contributing to advancements in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention extending beyond the borders of the United States. Her dedication to improving the lives of those affected by the disease made her a respected figure in the medical community.

She also worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the “Let’s Stop HIV Together” campaign and launched her own Hydeia L Broadbent Foundation. She also worked with other foundations, such as the Magic Johnson Foundation, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research), and The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC). 

Her legacy continues to inspire individuals and communities worldwide to work towards ending the stigma, discrimination, and injustices associated with HIV/AIDS while advocating for equitable access to care and support for those affected by the virus.

Edward Brooks, who spoke on a panel with Broadbent, called her an icon whose name will never be forgotten. 

“Hydeia Broadbent’s advocacy and activism made a significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community,” he told LGBTQ Nation. “She was a strong voice for HIV/AIDS awareness and destigmatization. By sharing her own experiences as a person living with HIV, she broke down barriers and promoted understanding. She did not only raise awareness about the virus but she highlighted the importance of inclusivity and support for the LGBTQ community as a whole.”

 Magic Johnson paid tribute in an instagram post in the wake of Broadbent’s recent passing. 

“I’m devastated to hear about the passing of an incredible young woman, activist and hero Hydeia Broadbent. In 1992, I did a Nickelodeon special called ‘A Conversation with Magic,’ and 7-year-old Hydeia and I made an incredible impact. Hydeia changed the world with her bravery, speaking about how living with HIV affected her life since birth,” Johnson said.

He continued, “She dedicated her life to activism and became a change agent in the HIV/AIDS fight. By speaking out at such a young age, she helped so many people, young and old, because she wasn’t afraid to share her story and allowed everyone to see that those living with HIV and AIDS were everyday people and should be treated with respect. Thanks to Hydeia, millions were educated, stigmas were broken and attitudes towards HIV/AIDS were changed.”

Edward added, “The story of Hydeia Broadbent will always be a pivotal factor in the history, conversations, development and the fight for HIV/AIDS for generations to come.” 

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