Meet the Y-HEPers

Robbie Johnson

Focus on PReP!

Y-HEP’s PReP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) program is the first and largest of its kind in Philadelphia to prevent young people from contracting HIV. We sat down with Robbie Johnson, 19, one of our PrEP participants, to get his perspective on PrEP and to find out what keeps him coming back to Y-HEP.

You’ve been coming to Y-HEP since you were in high school, Robbie. What’s the attraction for you?

It’ safe and there’s a fun energy here. They make me feel welcome. It’s a place where you can be whoever you want to be.

And you haven’t always felt like you could be yourself….at home?

I came out as gay to the family who raised me (my godparents) when I was 15. They didn’t accept the fact that I wanted to be who I wanted to be because of their religion. They made me feel uncomfortable. I said to myself, “I’m not going to be in a place where I’m not welcomed.” At 16, I went into foster care.

So how did you end up joining the PrEP program at Y-HEP?

I heard about it at the Y-HEP Health Center. When I found out there was a pill for HIV prevention, I decided I was going to do it. I just want to make sure I’m safe no matter what. I’ve had no problems staying on the medication and I get tested every week.

What would you tell someone who’s considering going on PrEP?

I would tell them they should do it. At the end of the day you never know what’s going to happen. It’s a pill that prevents you from getting HIV. Of course, you should always still be safe. Wear a condom; never have unprotected sex.

What does it mean to you to have a place to come to like Y-HEP?

It means the world to me. It’s actually a great thing to have. I feel loved when I come here.

Is it true you’re known as an entertainer at Y-HEP?

I’ve always liked to sing and act; I hope to pursue that as my career. I like to make people laugh. When I come to Y-HEP, if I feel there’s darkness in a room, I try to bring light. If I see somebody’s down, I try to talk to them and put a smile on their face.

If we were to give you a magic wand right now and grant you one wish, what would you wish for?

I would wish there was a Y-HEP in every city!