StoryCorps OutLoud: Thomas Serwatka and Edythe Abdullah

Feb 19, 2015

Edythe Abdullah and Thomas Serwatka

In WJCT’s StoryCorps OutLoud series, we’re hearing from Jacksonville residents who are part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Each week, WJCT’s Lindsey Kilbride shares a conversation recorded by the StoryCorps oral history project. All the participants are linked by the local LGBTQ youth support group, JASMYN. 

The University of North Florida community might recognize Thomas Serwatka's name because he’s Vice President Chief of Staff at the school. He's also a long-term JASMYN board member. Serwatka doesn’t make his sexuality a secret. He’s openly gay and HIV positive. As he told longtime friend and colleague Edythe Abdullah, his mother never accepted those parts of him. 

Thomas: I was raised in a home, that while not gay-supportive, I was one of four children who was very much loved. So no matter who I was, I was going to be loved. My mother, I think she went to bed every night praying that I would be heterosexual; okay I’m sure that she died praying that I would be heterosexual. When she found out that my partner had AIDS and was HIV positive, and had AIDS, it became clear that I was also HIV positive.

And mom said, ‘I’m going to pray every night that you will not die of AIDS’

And I said, ‘Well mom, that prayer about homosexuality hasn’t worked out so well, so I’m not sure that we really can count on this prayer about HIV, and my living through the AIDS crisis.’

Three years ago, I had a genetic test done for an exhibit here in Jacksonville, and as part of the results I discovered that I inherited a genetic variant from my mother that made me resistant to the HIV virus, so I guess mom got her prayer even before she spoke those words.

Edith: A mother’s prayer, what can you say?

T: I will still appear as a panelist for young gay men, in terms of who have contracted HIV. And talk to them about what life with HIV is like in today’s society. And it’s not a cake walk, I mean it’s not a death sentence but it’s not a cake walk either. And I’m sorry that, I know that JASMYN has saved so many young men...

E: Mhm

T: ...from contracting the disease and I am so proud of that part of it, but I am so saddened by the fact that we didn’t save everybody.