Wednesday, January 11, 2012

White Women and HIV

It was my third day of calling HIV service organizations to talk about white women and AIDS, and things were rapidly going downhill. Finally, after several days of calling various AIDS organizations across the country, I was referred to WORLD, Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Diseases, in Oakland, California. Headed by Executive Director Rebecca Denison, herself a white woman living with HIV, WORLD serves a diverse community of HIV-positive women. Then two Los Angeles-based organizations, Women at Risk and Women Alive, joined with WORLD in helping me tap into the grassroots network of women living with AIDS. The first women I talked to reached out in turn to their friends, and suddenly women across the country were calling me to ask about this article.
I interviewed about ten women, whose ages range from 22 to 53 and who live in California, Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. Some have AIDS, others are simply HIV-positive, and some are long-term survivors. Prevention programs tend to focus on black and Latin women, the female populations hardest hit by HIV. Many of the women interviewed for this article, especially those who are politically aware or who work closely with women of color, were anxious about discussing white women and AIDS. They know too well how often women have been divided, pitted against each other to fight for scraps. "I see it as ridiculous that we focus on one group at a time, when the bottom line is the fluids that transmit HIV, and women in many, many communities face the same problems," says River Huston, an HIV-positive artist and writer who lives in Pennsylvania. "When we separate, we divide our power, and we need all our power. Divide and conquer has been used over and over against us."The point is well taken, and the author wishes to stress that this article is not meant to divide women with AIDS or to chip away at hard-earned funding for prevention among women of color. It is meant to open a dialogue on HIV within white communities, especially among heterosexual women, the vast majority of whom do not see themselves at risk.

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