Longtime Florida Democrat Bob Poe, 61, has spent much of his life supporting his party in campaigns big and small. But this upcoming November, he hopes to personally shatter an ignoble political ceiling — becoming the first openly HIV-positive person elected to Congress.

Poe’s disclosure of his HIV status came via an interview published Thursday with the LGBT-centric magazine Watermark. First diagnosed with the viral disease in 1998 and successfully treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART), Poe kept his status close to the chest for decades, all the while becoming a wealthy entrepreneur who chaired the state Democratic Party in 2000 as well as the regional finance campaign for Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election run. And even during his current campaign for Florida’s 10th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, Poe was hesitant to proactively reveal his status. It was only after a chance encounter with a recently HIV-infected woman who attended one of his campaign stops that he decided to do so now.

“I just wanted to hug her and tell her that she wasn’t alone, that I’m HIV [positive] and that I’m happy and healthy and she will be too. But I couldn’t,” Poe told Watermark. “I couldn’t in that moment. Afterwards it became clear to me. I have an obligation to do this if I’m going to be a public servant. There’s no one else in elective office, that I know of at least, with the same opportunity to talk about [HIV] from a personal perspective. My encounter with that woman, who was just looking for reassurance, took me over the edge.”

According to the magazine, there have been several state legislators and politicians at the municipal level known to have HIV, but few disclosed their status prior being to being elected. Poe would easily become the most prominent politician living with the illness, which has become a manageable chronic condition with early and constant ART. At the time he contracted HIV, Poe had been struggling much of his life with his sexual orientation as well as with drug addiction, though he gradually conquered his demons, became openly gay, and married his husband Ken Brown in 2008. Both men who have sex with men and those who abuse drugs intravenously are known to be at higher risk of contracting HIV.  

“When I finally opened up about my substance abuse and my attraction to men, it was liberating,” Poe said. “[HIV] is the one last thing I’ve been carrying around.”

Though Poe is campaigning on a diverse platform of raising the minimum wage, clean energy promotion, and criminal justice reform, he does plan to spend time directly addressing HIV prevention, especially since the rate of new annual infections within the state has continued to rise in recent years. Having gotten through his own fears of HIV, Poe hopes to do the same for the public.

"So now it's time to come out and share this with you publicly, so that we can begin to have this discussion and remove the fear and the stigma and the shame that goes with this,” he said in a Facebook video also released Thursday. “Because it's those things that keep people from getting the diagnosis and the treatment that they need to live perfectly healthy lives like I have."

Poe is currently running against two other challengers in the Democratic primary. It’s believed the chances of winning the District’s seat, left open by the incumbent Republican Daniel Webster, will be especially favorable for any Democrat who makes it to the general election. Poe told CNN on Saturday that he plans to host an event in Orlando next week focused on HIV awareness.