SPEAK UP! 2016 – Registration Closed

August 2: Are YOU ready to speak up? SPEAK UP! 2016, the ONLY national leadership summit created by and for women living with HIV, is happening next month in Fort Walton Beach, Florida–and everyone is talking about it!

 

Registration is now closed, as we have reached capacity. If you would like to be added to our waitlist, please email your contact info (name, location, phone number and email) to pwnsummit@gmail.com.

For more information about the Summit, click here.
Registered for the Summit but have not submitted our questionnaire with important participant information yet? Click here.
Attending the Summit and have questions? We have answers. Check here.
Want to support the leadership of women living with HIV by sponsoring the Summit? We are still working to meet our fundraising goal! Learn more here.

Positively Trans Meets at White House, Advocates for Inclusion and Leadership of Trans* Community in HIV Policy

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Tiommi (right) and Arianna Lint (left) at White House, Feb. 10, 2016

by Tiommi Jenae Luckett

Going to the White House was truly something I never had on my radar to do for personal reasons. However, that was years ago when I felt that way. So fast forward and I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion with members of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and representatives from other agencies, alongside several phenomenal trans women and trans men who are recognized as experts.

The discussion started off with a synopsis of the things these lead organizations need to improve on when servicing the trans population. We who are of trans experience are already privy to this information and we voiced our frustrations about the inconclusive and nonexistent data of the trans community living with HIV.

We had to let these agencies know that the trans community is not being counted because trans women are seen as men who have sex with men (MSM) and trans men are counted as women. That is problematic, because these ASOs and CBOs that claim to provide services for transgender people seldom do. We also had to let them know that the trans women in attendance were more than beautiful women; we are also hardworking, dedicated, fierce, intelligent and persistent advocates who demand a place at the table. In essence, nothing about us without us. We made it blatantly clear that funds intended to bridge the gap in disparities suffered by the trans community living with HIV are not being used in that manner, but more for the leadership building of Black MSMs.

I know that we got our points across and were heard. As I told Douglas Brooks, Director of ONAP, that I thought my meeting with members of HRSA last year in Arkansas was a step in rectifying the situation, yet as a trans woman living with HIV in Arkansas, whatever surveillance measures are being used are not counting me. That is a huge problem for me. What we members of Positively Trans who were in attendance actually did was to share the preliminary results of our survey of trans* and gender-non-conforming people living with HIV in the South, since the southern region is often neglected from funding opportunities.

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PWN-USA Members Represent on World AIDS Day 2015!

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PWN-USA members were on the move this World AIDS Day, representing at events from coast to coast! (Don’t see your event and/or photos here? Please contact Jennie at jsmithcamejo@pwn-usa.org with relevant info and/or photos and she will add them!)

PWN-USA New York City–our newest affiliated regional chapter!–participated in the Brooklyn “Saving Our Homes, Saving Our Lives” charity awards benefit to raise awareness of the challenges facing low-income and formerly homeless people living with HIV, as well as in a World AIDS Day event at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater organized to show support for Governor Cuomo’s plan to end AIDS epidemic in New York by 2020.

PWN-USA South Carolina members attended a screening of the film Wilhemina’s War at the Nickelodeon Theater in Columbia, SC, sponsored by the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council. PWNer Stacy Jennings also starred in a play, “Sex HIS Way,” with a plot line about women and HIV.

PWN-USA Colorado member and Board Chair Barb Cardell was quite busy on and before World AIDS Day, shuttling from one event to another, speaking at a concert hosted by the Boulder County AIDS Project, a breakfast in Fort Collins for the Northern Colorado AIDS Project, a lunch in Denver for the Colorado AIDS Project, and a World AIDS Day candlelight vigil and community education event hosted by the Pueblo County Health Center. (She somehow also found time to be interviewed for this awesome article by former PWN-USA Communications Director Olivia Ford for thebody.com.)

PWN-USA member Lepena Reid in Florida rivaled Barb for being in the most places in a single day, assisting the Florida Department of Health in testing over 190 people on December 1, representing PWN-USA at a historical black church in Tampa alongside students from University of South Florida, Pastors on Patrol, local ASOs, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Purple Up for Domestic Violence, Delta Sigma sorority; and at a dedication of the AIDS Memorial Park in Tampa with the mayor, the AIDS Institute, the Department of Health, other ASOs and government officials. (See photos in slideshow above.)

PWN-USA Philly, not to be outdone, represented PWN at a World AIDS Day event at Temple University, addressing the gathering on the subject of HIV criminalization (see photo in slideshow above).

In San Francisco, PWN-USA Bay Area members attended the amfAR Cure Summit at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), where researchers explained progress toward a cure for HIV that will be furthered with a $20 million grant just received from amfAR, bringing attention to populations (such as women) too often left out of clinical trials.

In North Carolina, PWN-USA Strategic Communications Action Team member Alicia Diggs participated in a press conference with the North Carolina AIDS Action Network in Durham (see photo in slideshow above).

PWN-USA Louisiana member Rachel Moats shared her story in an article that came out on December 1 in Women’s Health magazine to fight stigma.

PWN-USA Georgia members were very active in fighting stigma across the state, representing at a World AIDS Day event at Morehouse College in Atlanta and at another at the Betterway Foundation in Columbus, GA. (See photos in slideshow above.) Members and allies participated in a special event in honor of World AIDS Day at Shy Temple Memorial Church in Atlanta on December 4, including a writing workshop led by author Khafre Kujichagulia, a candlelight vigil and a balloon release (see photos in slideshow above). One of the chapter’s newest members, Danielle Atkins (a.k.a. Ghetto Rose) even performed in a World AIDS Day commemoration event at Tavernpointe Kitchen and Bar in Atlanta. And on December 1, a breathtakingly beautiful documentary about another new PWN-USA Georgia member, Patricia Semiens, was released. Watch it here and share widely!

Separating Science from Stigma Following the Charlie Sheen Disclosure

Charlie Sheen’s public disclosure of his HIV status, while producing some of the predictable backlash and stigmatizing comments we have come to expect, has also presented a fantastic opportunity to educate the general public about the current science concerning HIV, including treatments, treatment as prevention and the reality of transmission risks, as well as HIV criminalization.

Let’s face it–when it comes to HIV, an awful lot of people are stuck in the ’80s and ’90s. Just take a look at the tabloids or the comments sections on mainstream media articles about HIV. Many people still consider an HIV diagnosis a death sentence (and use HIV/AIDS interchangeably); they grossly exaggerate the actual risks of transmission; they have little to no understanding of the efficacy of current medications; they do not realize that adherence to medication makes transmission next to impossible–even without condoms.

And that’s dangerous. It perpetuates stigma around HIV, which, aside from being damaging to people living with HIV, discourages many from being tested or seeking treatment. That same stigma and lack of education around current science leads to the prosecution of people living with HIV even in cases where no transmission occurred or was even possible, and can even fuel violence (look what happened to Cicely Bolden when she disclosed to her partner–he claimed to have killed her because a) having already had condomless sex with her, he must have acquired HIV; and b) assuming he had acquired HIV, it meant he was going to die soon).

However you feel about Charlie Sheen as an actor or a person, the public attention his disclosure has drawn is the perfect opportunity to educate the public. That’s a win-win for people living with HIV and for those at risk of acquiring HIV. Share the video above, the infographic below and the articles linked below–provided by TheBody.com–on social media and by email with your friends, family, coworkers, community and anyone else who might need some education.

How Can I Prevent HIV Transmission?

Five Ways to Stay Strong: How Charlie Sheen’s Disclosure Affects People Living With HIV
In the wake of Sheen’s disclosure, hyperbolic headlines can trigger old, familiar feelings of fear and shame. From Dr. David Fawcett, a mental health therapist who has been living with HIV since 1988, here’s vital advice on how people with HIV can stay strong when stigma flares.

Fact-Checking Charlie Sheen’s HIV Disclosure Interview
Warren Tong, Senior Science Editor at TheBody.com, goes point-by-point to bring scientific accuracy to Matt Lauer’s interview of Charlie Sheen and his physician on the Today Show.

Charlie Sheen Deserves Your Scorn, but Not Because He Has HIV
“Please keep this in mind: The jokes you make about Charlie Sheen won’t hurt him. He’s a super wealthy celebrity in a culture that worships those. But most people living with HIV don’t have those advantages, and the stigmatizing jokes and misinformation can and do hurt them.”

LISTICLE: 12 Ways to Give HIV Stigma a Well-Deserved Side Eye
An engaging set of GIFs of iconic female celebrities accompanies an insightful list of arguments to counter HIV stigma in daily life.

VIDEO: Aaron Laxton: Overcoming Depression and Drug Use, Living Boldly with HIV
After a traumatic childhood, Aaron Laxton had to overcome a military discharge, depression and drug use to come to terms with his HIV diagnosis. Now a popular video blogger and spokesperson, he lives a healthy and vibrant life with his HIV-negative partner Philip and works with homeless veterans facing similar challenges. In this immersive video, Aaron and Philip share their story.

HIV Prevention Portal
The best of the Web on HIV prevention, with features, infographics, video and links to a wealth of content.

TheBody.com’s “Ask the Experts” Forums
For decades, TheBody.com has been a reliable and accessible resource for people seeking clear answers about HIV. Whether asking about the risk of a personal encounter to finding the best possible treatment to stay healthy when living with HIV or more, our experts are on the ready to answer a myriad of concerns and queries.

Personal Stories of People Affected by HIV
The real life stories of people with HIV are a source of support for others, and a counterbalance to misinformation, stigma and fear.

And here are some more good articles about HIV in the wake of the Charlie Sheen disclosure:

Why an HIV Diagnosis Is Treated Like a Crime in Most U.S. States (The Daily Dot)
A great article about HIV criminalization laws and why they are ineffective at preventing the spread of HIV while perpetuating stigma.

Charlie Sheen and Celebrity HIV Status (The Feminist Wire)
Great perspective on why Charlie Sheen’s disclosure should not distract from the very real intersectional issues facing so many people living with HIV.

People Are Terrified of Sex (The Atlantic)
Insightful article examining the particular stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Charlie Sheen’s Diagnosis Offers Teachable Moment (USA Today)
A solid look at various angles of the disclosure and the ensuing conversation around HIV.

What It’s Like to Live with HIV/AIDS Today (video) – (CNN Headline News)
Great interview with HIV advocates.

And here are some concrete ways reporters, bloggers and anyone speaking in or through the media can avoid stigmatizing HIV.

For more articles, news and information, keep an eye on our Facebook page and Twitter!

PWN-USA Welcomes 6 New Members to Its Board of Directors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

The new PWN-USA Board of Directors, September 2015
The new PWN-USA Board of Directors, September 2015

Contact: Naina Khanna, nkhanna@pwn-usa.org / 510-681-1169

September 1, 2015 – Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), the premier voice of women with HIV in the US, is thrilled to announce the appointment of six new members to its Board of Directors: Tranisha Arzah; Bré Campbell; Cathy Elliott; Octavia Y. Lewis, MPA; Venita Ray; and Evany Turk.

“PWN USA is an organization that creates change; in doing so, we develop new leaders and strengthen activists,” says Barb Cardell, PWN-USA’s Board Chair. “As we continue to bring the voices and needs of all women living with HIV to policy, programming, and activism, we stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us, and it is our duty to lift up our next group of leaders.”

In full accordance with its mission and strategic plan, PWN-USA’s Board of Directors is 100% women living with HIV. Current Board members represent decades of experience working on HIV and intersectional issues, including criminal justice, housing rights, and reproductive justice. The incoming Board members bring an exciting range of expertise and perspectives to an already sumptuous table.

“I’m excited for so many reasons; but I am most excited that I get to share spaces with such a strong and diverse group of women,” says Tranisha Arzah, a new Board member from Seattle, WA, who is already a seasoned advocate at the age of 25. “PWN-USA highlights the intersectionality of social justice issues, and to be part of these positive social changes that affect the lives of all women living with HIV is an honor.”

Adds Bré Campbell, an incoming member of the Board who hails from Detroit: “I am excited to be a PWN-USA Board member, advocating on behalf of trans women of color who are living with HIV. “We must learn to love our full selves to win the battle for equality. We must advocate for and accept all of our intersections.”

Several members will be stepping down from long stints on the Board – among them Vanessa Johnson, a founding member of PWN-USA who also serves as the organization’s National Training and Leadership Development Director. “I have been a part of and have witnessed nearly eight years of organizational growth, achievement, and sustainability,” says Johnson of her time as a Board member of PWN-USA. “With change comes renewal. I will continue to serve as an educator and advocate with PWN-USA, and to support the new members as they join our sisters in leading and moving our cause forward. I congratulate each and every one of them.”

There were a large number of qualified applicants to the open Board positions; PWN-USA’s leadership wishes to thank all who applied for their passion and interest in our work. “I eagerly look forward to working with a new group of Board members,” Cardell says. “While I will miss the sisterhood I have shared with our outgoing Board members, as we seek change in how our culture treats women living with HIV, we also embrace change as an organization – for we are sisters in solidarity, sisters of action, and sisters of change.”

SERO Project and PWN-USA Co-Host HIV Criminalization Track at Positive Living Conference

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:           Tami Haught: tami.haught@seroproject.com; (641) 715-4182

July 21, 2015, Ft. Walton Beach, FL – The SERO Project and Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN-USA) are co-hosting the HIV is Not a Crime criminalization education and advocacy track at the 18th annual Positive Living Conference, which will be held in Ft. Walton Beach, FL, from September 18 – 20, 2015.

The track will build capacity for HIV criminalization reform advocacy at the state and regional level, and will bring together community organizers, advocates, experts in law and policy, and people living with HIV, united in their commitment to end the criminalization of people living with and affected by HIV.

“The sessions are organized to help deepen and enhance existing grassroots movements to reform HIV criminalization statutes and end the wrongful use of HIV-positive status in criminal prosecutions,” said Tami Haught, SERO’s conference coordinator.

Naina Khanna, executive director of the Positive Women’s Network-United States of America, said, “The conference will empower attendees with three days of skills-building workshops and practical trainings on state advocacy, grassroots organizing, coalition building, messaging, and familiarity with the human rights, legal, and public health issues related to HIV criminalization.”

With more than 400 participants each year, the Positive Living Conference may be the largest annual gathering of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the U.S.

“HIV criminalization is a topic that is front and center in the community, and we are thrilled to partner with two national PLHIV networks–SERO and PWN-USA–to bring this information to attendees,” said Butch McKay, executive director of OASIS, the Okaloosa AIDS Support & Information Services, which has sponsored the Positive Living Conference since its inception.

Goals of the criminalization track throughout the conference include:

  • Center the voices, perspectives and experiences of people living with HIV and communities disproportionately impacted by policing and criminalization in HIV decriminalization advocacy
  • Advance advocacy in states addressing HIV-related criminalization, stigma, and discrimination.
  • Foster understanding of the political realities of the legislative process and the skills needed to navigate that process.
  • Developing effective talking points and communication skills.

Please contact Tami Haught, SERO Conference Coordinator, with any questions at:  tami.haught@seroproject.com.  Register for the Positive Living Conference online at www.aidsoasis.org.

AIDSWatch 2015 and the Trans* Experience

By Tommy Luckett

What do you do when you are invited into a space and seemingly forgotten once you are present?

If you happen to be one of three beautiful, intelligent, and outspoken transgender women of color named Tela La’Raine Love, Arianna Lint, or Octavia Yaz-mine Lewis MPA, then you SPEAK UP!

Tommy Luckett.
Tommy Luckett.

It was during the Monday morning’s training session at AIDSWatch 2015 in Washington, DC, when the statistics were given on the likelihood of African-American and Latina women contracting HIV. At that moment Arianna Lint stood up and shouted, “What about transgender women?” Her question was valid, because we of the transgender community know that transgender women of color are 43% more likely to contract HIV than our cisgender counterparts.

Another crucial mistake that was given as a fact was that “transgender” falls under the category of sexuality. It was during the Q & A session that my three trans* sisters stood up with a microphone in hand to explain the difference to the organizers. Being a person of trans* experience is how one identifies his or her own gender. Being a person of lesbian, gay, and bisexual experience is how one identifies his or her sexual identity. The two terms are not synonymous.

While they possessed the microphone, the question was asked by Octavia: “Why was the opportunity to attend AIDSWatch 2015 afforded to members of the transgender community when we were forgotten about once we had arrived and were counted as being in attendance?”

We found it problematic that the organizers deemed it necessary to have transgender representation, but did not allow members of the transgender community to be at the discussion table. In doing so, there was no breakout session planned that highlighted the issues related to being a trans* person living with HIV. Our cisgender organizers made the assumption that they knew what was best for us, but no one asked about our personal narratives.

In effect, our lived experiences were erased and either categorized along with men who have sex with men (MSM) or along with cisgender women. Neither of these assumptions were accurate, because my narrative is completely different from the narrative of cisgender women. Much like the women who in all sincerity have said to me, “You are a woman” or “I have an issue with saying you’re a trans* woman,” they are inadvertently erasing my gender identity. If we in the transgender community are stripped of our trans* identity, then what is the message that is sent out to those who know nothing of the trans* lived experience?

The message is that we cannot think or speak for ourselves, which has been proven to be untrue. We are among those of the brightest minds, and we demand our place at the table. The time for waiting on the respect we so deserve is over.

My sisters demanded that there be a space created for the transgender population in which anyone could attend, so the discussion of our lived experiences could happen. It was at that moment that Michael J. Kaplan stood at the microphone and made a very heartfelt, sincere, and public apology to the trans* population in attendance for what had transpired.

Trans* sisters at a recent organizing gathering in Chicago
Trans* sisters at a recent organizing gathering in Chicago.

Remember, all of this happened during the morning session, and at some point during lunch or perhaps a little after lunch had concluded, the organizers had a room available during the breakout sessions which included the 20 or so transgender women of color and some of our cisgender allies. Douglas M. Brooks, the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, came and introduced himself in our session and said hello to all of those in attendance. It was a monumental time in all of our lives, because our trans* identity was acknowledged and appreciated.

The goal of the space that was created for us was to come up with three asks from the organizers of AIDSWatch as to what we would like to see happen for the next year concerning the transgender population:

  • I hope to see more statistics given on the rate of infection in the transgender community.
  • I hope to see a breakout session that consists of transgender facilitators or moderators.
  • I also hope to see transgender people at the decision making table for the planning of next year’s AIDSWatch.

All in all, the camaraderie and fellowship that occurred at this year’s AIDSWatch is undeniable. I connected with fellow advocates in the fight to end the epidemic, and connected with some new ones. I spoke with my legislative officials and had great meetings. Hearts and minds were opened. Who could ask for anything more?

Tommy Luckett is a Little Rock, Arkansas-based PWN-USA member and an adviser with the network Positively Trans.

Advancing Collaborative and Shared Leadership and Participation Inclusive of Women Living with HIV

Remarks Delivered at the White House’s National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Event, “Stepping Out of the Shadows: HIV & Violence against Women and Girls”

By Vanessa Johnson, PWN-USA National Training and Leadership Director

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Vanessa Johnson, JD.

I bring you greetings from the Ribbon Consulting Group, a Washington, DC-based firm where I serve as one of its Co-Directors. I am also a Board member of the Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN-USA) as well as the National Women and AIDS Collective (NWAC).  I was diagnosed with HIV 25 years ago in 1990, the same year I graduated from Temple University’s School of Law.

I want to thank Douglas Brooks, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, for inviting me to speak and I want to acknowledge all the other women living with HIV who are with us today, and those who are not. I stand in solidarity with them.

It is on this day, the 10th Anniversary of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD), that I begin my remarks by noting, the World Health Organization, as one of its strategies to end the global AIDS epidemic, authored three international declarations which make commitments to support the greater involvement of women, including women living with HIV, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Here in the United States, the basis for supporting the participation of women living with HIV is found in the Denver Principles, an historic document authored in 1983, which outlines the rights of people living with HIV as well as recommendations for participatory leadership and decision-making. Over the course of this 34-year fight, people living with HIV, both men and women, have worked tirelessly to ensure we have a stake in an ongoing battle which has taken the lives of over 600,000 Americans and threatens the health and well-being of another 1.2 million Americans, including 300,000 women, who are living with HIV today in the U.S.

For example, today’s focus on domestic violence and women would not be possible without the leadership and advocacy of women, especially women living with HIV.  The leadership of women living with HIV led to the March 2012 Presidential memorandum establishing a White House working group on the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women, and gender-related health disparities. President Obama’s signing of this memorandum might not have been possible if it were not for the willingness of women in a domestic violence shelter in Duluth, MN, to share their lived experiences with intimate partner violence.

Without their stories, we might not have an understanding that violence against women is grounded in power and control. Likewise, if it were not for the willingness of countless women living with HIV to tell their stories of past and present experiences with violence and trauma, we might not be here at this moment in time affirming what was noted in earlier presentations and the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) Resolution that, “women most at risk for or living with HIV are more likely to experience sexual or intimate partner violence one or more times in their lives.”

I stand in here in hope that both communities of women, HIV and domestic violence, which are inextricably linked, will build upon a shared vision to create a world where women, regardless of HIV status, no longer experience violence in their lives. We together must advance collaborative, shared, and supportive leadership which:

1) brings gender equality and human rights perspectives to the forefront;

2) clearly recognizes the role and influence of all women, including women living with HIV;

3) spearheads strategies that effectively address the underlying causes of HIV such as violence against women, feminized poverty and women’s limited voice in decision-making; and

4) reminds our national leaders and partners that the best outcomes are always ones that start with meaningful involvement of affected populations.

Thank you.

Watch the video from the White House event (Vanessa Johnson’s comments begin at 2:27:00)

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Read more about what PWN-USA members are doing on NWGHAAD

More Resources

Sister Warriors

By Wanda Brendle-Moss, PWN-USA Member

This article originally appeared on March 4, on The Well Project’s A Girl Like Me blog.

Wanda Brendle-Moss.
Wanda Brendle-Moss.

As we approach National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10, 2015, my mind is taking a magical mystery journey…

Start Date 1981, the beginning of what would be my 20 years as a Registered Nurse. There was a disease formerly known as GRID, now given a new name, HIV, Human ImmunoDeficiency Virus, and in the advanced stages called AIDS. I worked at North Carolina Baptist Hospital (Now Wake Health) a #1 rated Medical Center in my area. Even given that we were supposedly gifted with some of the medical community’s greatest minds…people admitted with this virus were dying.

For me as a new nurse (I was 27, a single mother of 2, having attended nursing school after the break up of my 1st of 3 marriages) there were several things that went through my mind. My son was about to become a teenager, so when we were all watching the news and the virus was given a name, explaining how it was spread, etc., I told my son that no matter what, he was to respect himself and whomever he chose to eventually have sex with by always, always using condoms.

The other thing that was happening at the hospital…being the “new kid” on the floor…Typically assignments that others did not want went to the new kid. And whenever one of “those men” was admitted, I typically would be their nurse, the difference being…I was unafraid. They were someone’s loved one…and my nursing philosophy to the day I stopped nursing was…every patient is someone’s father, brother, mother, sister, son, or daughter…and I treated them as I wanted my family members treated.

What struck me though was…Where were the women?? … Click this link to read the rest of this article, and view even more photos of Sister Warriors, on The Well Project’s A Girl Like Me blog!

Words Matter: Sharing as Much as I’m Comfortable to Stand Up to HIV Stigma

By Tami Haught, PWN-USA Member

Tami Haught.
Tami Haught.

How we introduce ourselves makes a difference; the words we use matter.

When asked at a meeting to introduce myself, I will start with: My name is Tami Haught and I have been living with HIV for 21 years. Sharing that little bit of information about myself is selling myself short and not conveying the full message that I want to share with others. Not that being comfortable with sharing the fact that I am living with HIV isn’t a big deal; disclosure is never easy and opens you up to ridicule, stigma, discrimination, bullying, and rejection, and it took a long time for me to share.

I’ve been thinking though: Does this little bit of information make me relatable, or does it continue the perception that “HIV won’t happen to me”? However, this introduction shares more of my story, which hopefully more people can relate to, and shows that HIV can happen to anyone – after all, I am just like you:

My name is Tami Haught. I have been a mother living with HIV for 18 years. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, and friend living with HIV for 21 years. I was a wife living with HIV for almost three years. I have been openly living with HIV for 15 years.

I am beginning to think this more expanded introduction can help people relate to me better; after all, I am sure whoever I am talking with will be like I was, assuming HIV would never touch their lives. But talking about being a mother – everyone has one.

The other descriptions of my life open up the opportunity for people to ask questions:

Why have you only been living openly with HIV for 15 years??

This gives me the opportunity to share that for the first six years of living with HIV I lived in silence because of the stigma, self-shame, and fear after my diagnosis. My late husband (thus being a wife for almost three years) didn’t want to share our status; we lived in Texas, where the hate, fear, stigma, and discrimination were rampant.

Words matter; and to help reduce the stigma of HIV, we need to use as many as we feel comfortable sharing. If we give people the opportunity to self-identify similar traits or characteristics, others may begin to recognize that I am just like them or they are just like me. Once people who aren’t living with HIV realize people living with HIV are just like them, maybe we can truly make a difference – because we will not be just a number, the far-off “someone else.” HIV does not discriminate, and anyone can contract HIV.

Tami Haught is an Iowa-based PWN-USA member, SERO Project Criminalization Confererence Coordinator, Community Organizer for CHAIN (Community HIV/Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network), President of PITCH (Positive Iowans Taking Charge), and a member of the USPLHIV Caucus Steering Committee and the GNP+NA Board.