From poz.com “Tanner White, who bills himself as “your favorite positive Marine” on his YouTube channel, has posted a new video in which he asks singer-songwriter Steve Grand to the 2015 Marine Corps Ball. Grand is an openly gay country singer who is as famous for his hunky body as for his music. White is an HIV-positive social media activist who posts videos about HIV prevention and awareness.
Bob Leahy: First of all, Tanner, congratulations on going viral. Are you excited?
Tanner White: Yes, I am. And it’s getting the word out there about the work that I do and my organization. It’s really great.
For people who haven’t seen the video you posted last week (see below), tell us what you did.
I made a video and I asked Steve Grand (below left) out to the Marine Corps Ball over YouTube.
Tell me why you picked Steve Grand to invite.
I picked Steve because of the activism he dies – and I like his music. He’s just a big role model for the LGBNT community.
Did the fact that he’s a bit of a hunk with a great body have anything to do with it?
(Laughs) Well I am an admirer of his work and his music but of course that fact that he’s extremely good looking didn’t hurt at all.
He responded with a video, right?
Yes, he made an acceptance video to my proposal.
Did you think he was going to say yes, or was it a long shot?
I was hoping that he would but at the same time it was worth it to ask, whether he would or not. My whole goal was to show people that you need to get out there and seek what you want, instead of hoping that it comes to you. But I was ecstatic when he said yes. My stomach dropped and it felt like I had butterflies. My heart skipped a beat.
And of course the video has done quite well. Over 130,000 views and poz.com picked up the story too. The ball is a big affair right? You dress formal?
It’s very formal. We wear our dress uniforms. Our dates are supposed to dress very formally too.
So you would be a gay couple there. Is that very common for an event like that? Will it feel awkward or anything?
It’s not unheard of. But in the command I’m in right now we are a very tight knit group and nobody looks down ion each other. If people don’t agree with someone else’s beliefs they keep it professional; they don’t speak out against us or treat us any differently.
Now what about the poz angle. You’re poz. I’ve seen your videos and it sounds like your unit is very accepting of that.
Yes, they are. I’ve not gotten any negative comments or negative reactions from anyone in my unit. They have all been very supportive of me and have done everything they can to help me out whenever I’m having a rough time with it.
Do you want to tell me a little bit about your story? I know you were diagnosed in 2012 while you were in the service but I don’t know how it went down.
Well, I’ve always liked to help people out as much as I can so growing up, as soon as I was old enough to, I’d go and donate blood every chance I got. I went to go and donate when I was in the military and they called me back and said that I had tested positive for HIV. So I immediately got upset. I wasn’t educated about it, I was thinking to myself "how much longer I have to live?". I didn’t want to believe it at all.. So I went to the medical unit on base and got another test and that came back positive as well. As soon as they got the results back my commanding officer had me down to the Infectious Disease Department of the Naval Hospital and I learned a little bit more about the virus.
How did the conversation with the Commanding Officer go?
It was very awkward, I guess. He hasn’t had to deal with it before. Of course he brought in the chaplain to help out some. He wasn’t rude about it, he didn’t say anything wrong, he just didn’t know what to say. But he had a paper that told me basically how my Marine Corps life was going to change.
One of things is that you would no longer be eligible for deployment overseas, right?
Yes. I get sent to one of three naval hospitals every six months for an evaluation and they have a pretty decent support group set up at each one. They usually send about 11 or 12 marines and we get to interact with other people who are HIV-positive and share any problems we may have had. It helps out a lot.
So there are a group of marines who are poz but not all of them are out like yourself, I imagine. You have been vocal and prominent on YouTube pretty well since the beginning,
It took me about a year to get myself educated enough and to bring myself to accept that I was positive. After that I became every vocal about it. I remember the feelings when I was first diagnosed and I wanted to help people who were in the same situation. I wanted to get videos out and reach as many people as I can just to help them know that it’s alright and that they are going to live a long and prosperous life, just like anyone else. And my second goal is that I’ve noticed the stigma that is associated with being positive and some of the misconceptions that people have and I wanted to try and get rid of that as much as I can.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and the work you are doing. You are not deployable so what are you doing?
I’m a sargeant on active duty in the Marine Corps. I’m a Ground Radio Technician. I’m stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I’m 23. I joined up when I was 19.
And you say you are a shy person. It certainly shows in your very first video but you seem to have grown in confidence since then.
I believe I have. The longer I’ve been in the Marine Corps, I’ve picked up more rank, more responsibility and I’ve had to talk in front of groups of Marines and then doing my videos, I forced myself to get used to that camera and I’m not quite as fluent and confident as I’d like to be . . .
I have to say you looked nervous in your proposal video to Steve Grand. Why were you so nervous?
Because I was putting myslef out thre in a different way, possibly putting myself out there to be rejected, not only privately but publically. It was a nervous experience.
And you posted a video afterwards where you were very pleased when he said yes. What’s your favourite Steve Grand song by the way?
All American Boy.
Thought so. Now, besides the videos you are also involved in other work right?
I came up with an organization I founded called A Positive Tomorrow. I’m the Executive Director and there are three other directors that work with me and we are working on programs to help people out.
The focus is on newly diagnosed people isn’t it?
Right now on HIV-positive people and their families. However, in the future we plan on broadening our focus to include LGBT, transgendered – basically anyone who feels different, to let people know it’s OK to be different, that everybody is different and that we are here to support anybody who needs it.
Good. One final question then, Tanner. You have a very positive attitude that comes across now and also in your You Tubes. When you look back on living with HIV has it been a positive experience - a good thing, a bad thing or a mix?
Overall I look upon it as a very positive influence because it has allowed me to get up and do what I love to do, to help other people, gain more experience to help people than I could do before. I have absolutely no regrets because even when I have messed up on my life, it has all played a role in making me who I am today. If I was able to go back and take anything back I wouldn’t.
Good message to end on, Tanner. Good luck with your work. We want to hear how that date with Steve went so let’s connect again later.
Contact Tanner on Facebook.
Contact Tanner on twitter @PozMarine
Visit A Positive Tomorrow here.
Watch Tanner on YouTube here.
Award-winning blogger Bob Leahy first made his social media mark a decade ago on LiveJournal.com where there are still to this day almost 3,000 entries of his available to be read. He was a featured blogger on Ontario’s HIVStigma.com campaign, along with PositiveLite.com founder Brian Finch. He joined PositiveLite.com at its inception in 2009 and became it's Editor a year later.
Born in the UK, Bob’s background is in corporate banking, which he gladly left in 1994, after being diagnosed with HIV the previous year. He has chaired the board of PARN (Peterborough AIDS Resource Network) and has been an executive board member of both the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS). He was inducted in to the Ontario AIDS Network’s Honour Roll in 2005. Bob is currently a member of Ontario’s GMSH (Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance). He also writes for TheBody.com.
In 2012, Bob was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for his work and commitment to HIV/AIDS in Canada.
Bob continues to write for this site while in the Positivelite.Com editor’s seat, with a particular interest in HIV prevention, theatre and the arts in general. He is accredited media for a number of Toronto theatres. He lives in Warkworth, Ontario with his partner of thirty-two years and three dogs.