“The first words out of my mouth were: ‘How long do I have to live?’ That’s how uneducated I was.”
Hernando Umana had been seeing tremendous personal and professional success since he was a child. Beginning with roles on Univision (Spanish TV shows) and then transitioning into an actor for the Broadway and National tours of shows like “Kinky Boots,” and “School of Rock,” Umana even appeared as a model for Project Runway.
Despite this, Umana’s world was rocked when he was diagnosed with HIV.
“I was completely uneducated about it all when I found out,” he explains. “I grew up in a very Catholic home and my parents pulled me out of sex ed class as a kid. The only time sex was mentioned was with abstinence. So I went out into the gay world, slept with 3 people and was diagnosed at 20 years old.”
At first, Umana believed that his diagnosis was essentially a death sentence — a prominent misconception of HIV. “I was terrified,” he shares. “I thought no one would ever love me.” He went onto say that he learned it was manageable, and that a lot of progress has been made in terms of treatment. “All I had to do was take a pill at night and never have to worry about infecting someone? I thought, why don’t people know about this?”
“I’ve decided to do the complete opposite of how I was raised and talk about sex,” he explained. “Talk about being Poz. Educate people. It’s been one of the greatest journeys of my life.”
Since opening up about his journey, he’s been featured in Esquire, Poz Magazine, Querrty, and many other publications. He was also part of the U=U Campaign in New York, where his face was featured on ads on subways, billboards, and even — much to his admitted embarrassment — Grindr ads.
“My way of changing the narrative is by simply showing up and speaking my truth. I meet people at where they’re at,” Umana says of his work. “I love to share info with others. You can’t be mad at someone for not knowing. Give them a second, educate them… I want to show what someone living with HIV looks like. A healthy, happy, successful human.”
As for his advice to younger people, Umana believes in authenticity. “Being honest, sticking to who you truly are, even in the scariest times, will bring you such clarity and happiness,” he says. “You don’t have to try to be anyone else but yourself. And once you can celebrate yourself others will come flocking towards you.”
Today Umana is looking forward to his new company, CBD Dog Health. He claims that Cannabis changed his life, and he enjoys the prospect of potentially changing dog’s lives, too. “CBD Dog Health provides all natural, full spectrum products to help your fur baby with anything from anxiety, arthritis, allergies all the way to cancer and seizures,” he says. “Getting to see dogs who couldn’t walk start to run a few days later makes me so unbelievably happy.”
Whether he’s acting, helping people or helping animals, Umana is a force for change within the world, and an important reminder that being who you are makes you stronger than anything else.