Where Women With HIV Find Their Voices
In September 2016, the Positive Women's Network-USA will host Speak Up!, its second National Leadership Summit for Women with HIV.
Much more than a conference, the gathering will also serve as a launch pad for women with HIV advocating for themselves and others. Veterans of the first event are now calling on women living with HIV, including transgender women, to attend the Summit.
In 2014, PWN-USA held its first Summit, and says it helped over 200 women living with HIV from 26 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada and Mexico build advocacy skills and leadership capacity.
"Those women have gone on to do amazing work in their communities fighting stigma, advocating for fair policy and supporting people living with HIV in their region," PWN-USA explains in their invitation to this year's event.
Women who found their turning point at the 2014 event are asking for others to support the next gathering.
"This summit inspired me -- like so many other women -- to take control of my narrative and become an advocate, working for policies that respect the rights of women living with HIV like me and fighting the stigma that holds us back," explains Marlena Richardson. "I love PWN because PWN has trained and is continuously training me to be a viable voice for change in my community."
Hear more of Marlena's story below:
Dominique Banks, who was diagnosed with HIV as a college senior, found herself at the first Summit and signed up as a member of PWN-USA on the spot. Now, she's starting a regional chapter of PWN-USA in Memphis, TN.
"I love PWN-USA because they give me the support and love I need the continue going through life and being an advocate," she shares. "I'm determined to fight on for my state of Tennessee."
According to PWN-USA, during the Summit women living with HIV will "build leadership skills, discuss timely policy, legal and research trends relevant to women's lives, and strategize to support organizing, movement building, and advocacy at a federal and state level -- in a safe, supportive, inclusive environment."
PWN-USA also sponsors an annual National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV as a part of Domestic Violence Month to bring awareness to the violence and trauma experienced by women living with HIV.
For Nancy Asha Molock, as well as many other PWN-USA members, leaving an abusive relationship was a turning point in her relationship with HIV.
"I was trying to exit a relationship that was verbally abusive. He threatened to email all of my friends (from a forwarded email list) and disclose my HIV status if I decided to end the relationship. I immediately panicked because I had not disclosed my HIV status to anyone, except for a few close family members," she explained.
"I somehow found the strength to call his bluff and told him to go ahead and tell, that I didn't care. I had to be free from him because I knew staying in the relationship could result in deterioration of my physical and mental health and even lead to possible death. When I stood my ground, he didn't follow through with his threat."
"This campaign is imperative because we are in a fight to save our lives she explains. "If we don't advocate for ourselves, who will?"
Susan Mull, who sat down with fellow PWN-USA member LaDonna Boyens to discuss their journeys as women with HIV, emphasized the centrality of advocacy in her life.
"This is what I tell people that try to talk to me and say, 'Susan, wow, you really didn't make money and you don't have any kind of savings plan and you're never going to be able to retire.' And I just look at them like, you have no idea how much I have, how much joy, how much authenticity in terms of what is the meaning of life to me," Mull said.
"The meaning of life to me would be nothing if I had never met the people who, like you and I, are doing this work to end AIDS, to create justice, to eradicate stigmas surrounding HIV and AIDS."