Name: Ashley Rose Murphy
Job title: Student and HIV/AIDS activist
Currently lives in: Toronto
Education: 4th-year theatre major, York University
Adopted as an infant into a large, loving family, Ashley Rose Murphy remembers the moment her parents told her that she had been born with HIV. “My adoptive parents told me I had the virus when I was seven years old. They also told me not to tell anyone as they were afraid people would be mean and discriminate against me,” she says. “I told everyone. And, yes, some people were awful. Some parents tried to have me banned from the school, some kids were not allowed to play with me. But I didn’t care much. I’m the second-youngest of 10 kids, and we all have some sort of disability or medical condition, so we supported each other and stood up for each other.”
When Murphy was 10, she was asked to speak about her experience as the only child in Canada openly living with the virus at a conference for medical professionals. “Seeing them raise their hands, ask me questions and write down the answers made me feel empowered,” she says. “From then on, I started speaking out as often as I could. My goals were to reduce the stigma and educate youth to reduce new infections.” Since then, Murphy has made many more appearances at conferences and in the media, becoming the face of HIV activism for people of all ages. At 17, she gave a preternaturally poised TedX talk, How to be Extraordinary, that’s been viewed more than 225,000 times.
If there’s one thing Murphy is striving to teach the world about people living with HIV, it’s this: “Undetectable equals untransmittable—that’s huge. A person who has HIV and who takes their medication and whose virus has dropped to an undetectable level in their body—meaning it is not found when their blood is tested—cannot pass HIV on to others,” she explains. “I can get married and have children and not pass it on. I can live a fairly long life. I’m happy and living my life, and I love my circle of friends and family.”
Murphy also loves studying theatre and hopes to become an artist—singing, writing and recording songs and acting (“I’d prefer to be in the local television and film industry so I can be close to my family”)—as well as continuing her journey as an activist and speaker. Her work legitimizes the struggle that people living with HIV face just to be treated kindly. “One young woman wrote to me and told me that I had saved her life,” she says. “It is immensely satisfying knowing that I have been behind some of the changes in policies medical staff follow when treating youth with HIV.”