By Penny DeNoble, PWN-USA Member
Tuesday, March 10, 2015, is the 10th annual National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
As social, community, and government groups across the nation prepare to bring awareness to the susceptibility that women have to acquiring HIV, I want to bring attention to and create visibility for a group of sisters who are classified as being a part of a sexual minority group, that are often overlooked in our acknowledgement.
I am a Black woman who lives with an HIV diagnosis, and I’m also a same-gender-loving woman.
Same-gender-loving women are rarely brought up in conversation when we speak about women who are living with HIV. We are often made to feel like we have to remain in the “closet” of shame about our sexual orientation and HIV status. Mind you, I was involved in a heterosexual relationship when I received my diagnosis nearly 29 years ago, but since then I have been involved solely in same-gendered relationships.
The process of sharing my status with female partners, educating them about HIV, and keeping them safe has been of great importance in my relationships. Even when I was frightened beyond my wildest imagination and didn’t share initially, I recognized the importance of it and took on the challenge.
Sometimes homophobia and AIDS-phobia in our social networks make it a very frightening effort to easily share, not only our sexual orientation but also our HIV status, with those important to us.
On top of this, it is a very thought-provoking experience to have open communication about HIV risks.
Although researchers pinpoint that while sex between women is almost surely not responsible for HIV transmission, it is still very important that lesbians receive appropriate messages and education about risk factors, how to protect themselves from HIV and to debunk the myths about female-to-female transmission.
It is vital that lesbians not be maltreated or discriminated against by healthcare providers and that there are no barriers to access to healthcare. We as advocates for the sexual and reproductive rights of women must be sure this population of women is receiving tailored interventions for great health outcomes also.
As with the lack of data-collecting sources involved with women in general, the inclusion of lesbians and women who have sex with women in data collection and analysis will help to combat the invisibility these group of women have confronted within previous research. The surveillance of HIV cases reported among women who have sex with women has not been adequate.
So on this 10th annual National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, may we recognize the importance of empowering HIV-positive lesbians through education and skills, and loving and supporting social networks, on how to craft a way of being our authentic selves in the world of HIV advocacy.
Penny DeNoble is a current resident of Denver and a longtime member of PWN-USA-Colorado. Penny looks forward to relocating to her native New Orleans in the coming months.