Hydeia Broadbent, AIDS activist, dies at age 39

Feb 25, 2024, 12:22 PM | Updated: Feb 26, 2024, 10:21 am

FILE - Hydeia L. Broadbent, 14, speaks after receiving an Essence Award during the taping of the 19...

FILE - Hydeia L. Broadbent, 14, speaks after receiving an Essence Award during the taping of the 1999 Essence Awards in New York on Friday, April 30, 1999. Broadbent, who was born with HIV and has been living with full-blown AIDS since age 5, has become a powerful spokesperson and AIDS activist. Broadbent, a prominent HIV/AIDS activist known for her inspirational talks in the 1990s as a young child to reduce the stigma surrounding the virus she was born with, has died. She was 39. (Stuart Ramson, Associated Press)

(Stuart Ramson, Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Hydeia Broadbent, the HIV/AIDS activist who came to national prominence in the 1990s as a young child for her inspirational talks to reduce the stigma surrounding the virus she was born with, has died. She was 39.

Broadbent’s father announced on Facebook that she had died “after living with Aids since birth,” but did not provide more details. The Clark County coroner’s office said Broadbent died Tuesday in Las Vegas.

“Despite facing numerous challenges throughout her life,” Loren Broadbent wrote, “Hydeia remained determined to spread hope and positivity through education around Hiv/AIDS.”

He did not immediately respond Thursday to messages seeking comment sent via Facebook and a GoFundMe page.

Broadbent became a fierce advocate for those living with the disease at a time when medications were not widely available to help manage HIV and the virus was considered a death sentence. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, attacks the body’s immune system and is the virus that causes AIDS.

Broadbent was adopted in Las Vegas by her parents Loren and Patricia Broadbent as a baby, but her health condition wasn’t known until she became seriously ill at age 3. By 5, Hydeia Broadbent had developed full-blown AIDS.

Her mother began giving talks to local groups about the hardship of raising a child with AIDS, and little Hydeia listened, soaking in all she heard.

Soon enough, the girl was speaking before the crowds.

She became a national symbol of HIV/AIDS advocacy at 7, when she joined Magic Johnson on a 1992 Nickelodeon television special, where the basketball legend talked about his own HIV diagnosis. The teary-eyed girl pleaded that all she wanted was for “people (to) know that we’re just normal people.”

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Johnson said he was devastated by the news of her death and remembered Broadbent as an activist and hero who “changed the world with her bravery.”

“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,” Johnson wrote. “Cookie and I are praying for the Broadbent family and everyone that knew and loved Hydeia.”

But a 1996 appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” when she was 11, propelled her path into activism.

In that tearful interview, Broadbent, wearing a silver nose ring and long earrings that swayed when she spoke, tried to smile through tears as she described the hardest part about living with AIDS — losing friends she loves to the disease. But she told the talk-show host that she didn’t spend her days feeling sorry for herself.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday, Winfrey recalled how Broadbent moved her and millions of others with her refusal to sink into self-pity.

“She told me she could either feel sorry for herself or ‘try and make a difference…say, today’s another day, I can get up, I can do something, and make something positive,'” Winfrey said. “And that really is how she went on to live her life. Thirty-nine years was not enough for this bright light.”

Broadbent continued on the talk show circuit as a child, met the president and first lady, spoke at the 1996 Republican National Convention, and was featured on a segment on ABC’s “20/20.”

Her outspoken advocacy continued into adulthood. She spoke at events throughout the country, including a 2014 community forum in Los Angeles and a 2015 panel in Selma, Alabama, highlighting AIDS as a civil rights issue.

Throughout the years, she also partnered with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation on awareness campaigns, including the organization’s “God Loves Me” billboard campaign that featured people living with HIV.

In a statement, AHF remembered Broadbent as a lifelong activist who “continued her fierce and outspoken advocacy throughout her youth and adulthood.”

Grazell Howard, board chair of the Black AIDS Institute, recalled meeting Broadbent when she was around 12 and said “her voice was as sweet as her spirit.” They kept in touch over the years, and Howard saw her grow into a woman who also cared about having a life apart from being a poster child for HIV/AIDS.

“She had what every Black woman has. She has to manage being responsible, courageous and a woman,” Howard said. “She carried a burden for us all. … We never talk about the plight of the heterosexual Black woman in the HIV movement in a real way. But we witnessed it with Hydeia up until these 39 years.”

Broadbent’s death comes two weeks after National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and at a time when the virus continues to disproportionately impact Black communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found over 36,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2021, a 7% drop from 2017. Black and African American people made up 40% of those new infections while being 12% of the population.

“Hydeia’s death is a highlight of all the work we still have to do in the HIV sector,” Howard said, “as well as a celebration of a young woman who was courageous, who was fearless, who was tireless, who was selfless.”

Contributing: Hillel Italie in New York, Terry Tang from Phoenix, Associated Press

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Hydeia Broadbent, AIDS activist, dies at age 39