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The Horror of HIV/AIDS: The Murder of Cicely

By Rae Lewis-Thornton

September 11, 2012

This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.

HIV/AIDS is one scary-ass illness. In contemporary times, for sure it's one illness that has made people think irrationally, including me. But how could we not, with those early images of ghostly looking white men who lined the walls of hospitals around the country. This mysterious "Gay Disease" as doctors called it, scared reason out of everyone, from doctors to nurses to mothers to fathers to ministers, even the undertaker was scared to bury the dead.

I remember in 1984 during the Democratic primary, just two years into the pandemic Rev. Jesse Jackson would visit these AIDS hospices where mostly gay men were sent to die. He would even spend the night at one hospice as a way to show compassion for the throw-aways of society. Ronald Reagan was President and he hadn't even mentioned AIDS out of his mouth and the death toll was rising beyond anything we understood.

People were in panic mode for sure. There were news reports that people had burned a house down of a person known to have AIDS. In a small town in Indiana, they kicked little Ryan White out of school. Doctors and nurses refused to touch people with this mysterious disease that the medical journals coined GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency).

The early images and information on AIDS in the '80s spilled over into the '90s and it stuck to us like gorilla glue.

By the time Magic Johnson went public with his HIV status I had known mine for five years. In that five years I had held my infection close to my heart. The burden of living with my infection in secret, I felt, was better than being a outcast in society. My career as a political organizer was growing. I was in graduate school working on my Masters in political science, with my eyes on a Ph.D. and I couldn't afford to let little minds stop me from my goals, so I chose carefully who I told. I even stayed in a unhealthy relationship for four years with a man 25 years my senior for fear of being alone. He had accepted my HIV status and I figured that I might as well leave well enough alone.

While Magic was being ostracized by his fellow NBA teammates, my upwardly mobile friends were cracking jokes about HIV and I sat in silence and suffered. Treatment was mediocre at best and AIDS was a death sentence for sure.

The first 10-15 years of this disease was ugly and so was society. But now we are 32 years into the AIDS pandemic and the medical advances have been nothing short of a miracle. Times have changed and so has HIV/AIDS, so why haven't we changed? I woke the other morning with a news report of a woman being murdered after she disclosed her HIV status to her partner.

Cicely Bolden

Cicely Bolden

I can image what went through Cicely Bolden's mind, I know because I've been there. You meet a guy and you like him. You really like him. You want to tell him that you have HIV but you are afraid of rejection. I mean no one wants to be alone. You have those butterflies in your tummy all the time, so it seems. You know you should tell him, but you just can't bring yourself to do it. I remember once in my early days, I was "this" close to having sex. We started out kissing and cuddling and I could feel his penis rise. OMG, I liked this guy, he was rich and successful and had been working on me for months. He was in town visiting and as we lay on that plush bed, in that plush five star hotel I was in absolute turmoil.

I played every scenario in my head. if I tell him now with his hard dick pressed against my body how would he react? I was old enough to know that you don't play dick and pussy with a man.

If you don't want to fuck, then you shouldn't do the things with him that lead to fucking. Yes, no should be no, but by the same token, a woman must take ownership of who she lets feel between her legs. LADIES, feeling between your legs and on your breast sends the signal you want to fuck. That's the bottom fuckin' line. Stop playing dick and pussy, it's very dangerous.

But back to the topic at hand. I mean, I had wanted to tell him before it got that far, but the words just wouldn't come out of my mouth. He got harder and harder and I started to panic. I felt it was morally wrong to not disclose my status, but we had gone so far how do I stop?

But had we really gone too far? We were both still clothed and I knew that I had to act fast. I just knew it. I also knew that this was not the time to tell. You don't have a serious conversation when the dick is hard and the pussy is wet. Boundaries should be established before he ever touches your breast. Touching should only occur when you've had an adult conversation, like do you have a sexually transmitted disease? Have you ever had a sexually transmitted disease? How do you feel about condom use? This conversation must take place very early in every relationship. And if you are not mature enough to have it, then you are not mature enough to have sex.

So I was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. He laid on top of me, grinding his hard dick against my body and I lay their in chaos. I knew I had to bite the bullet. I just knew it. I whispered,

"I can't. I can't do this."


"I can't, I'm not ready." I mumbled.

"Ain't you on the pill?" He asked.

Cicely Bolden

At that moment I knew there was a God. This was my way out. "No," I whispered. There was a deep sigh and he rolled off my body.

That was the last time I saw him. Not because he didn't try, but because I preferred to walk away rather than being outright rejected. He would later learn my HIV status like many others, when I told my story on the cover of Essence magazine.

I understand what must have gone through Cicely's head. It had probably gone to the point of no return and she just didn't know how to say it. Then after the sex, she started to feel remorse. She needed to be honorable. And honestly it's never too late to right a wrong. So she told. She told. She told. She told, and telling cost her her life.

He said, "She killed me, so I killed her." My most fundamental question is how did we get to this place 32 years into the AIDS pandemic that a lack of education and fear of rejection would cause a life? Read more here.

Yes, it was morally wrong for Cicely to not disclose up front, but it should not have cost her life.

The Facts Stand for Themselves

  1. It's 20 to 1 that a woman will infect a man. The fact of the matter is, about 15% of the men in the United States are infected because they had a sex with a woman. Men infect women, women rarely infect men. Most men in this country are infected from having sex with another man or through the sharing of needles with someone who has HIV.
  2. The latest research is clear. If a person is infected with HIV and their viral load is non-detectable it's about a 2-3% chance that they would infect their partner, even if they use NO condom.
  3. If a person knows that they have been exposed to HIV and seek a prophylaxis treatment with 72 hours it will reverse the HIV. They can take an HIV medication cocktail for 30 days and it will destroy the HIV in their body.

So you see, the chances that he is actually infected are slim to none. And they could have acted fast and put him in a preventable treatment just on GP. That's why HIV education is important for both the infected and the uninfected.

And it must be said, AIDS is no longer the death sentence it use to be. With EARLY diagnoses (that's why testing is important), proper treatment, care and COMPLIANCE, a newly infected person can live with HIV for years. These are all facts!

So how did we get to this point? Like For real ... For real? Like, don't everyone know what I know about HIV? It's not just about lack of education but about the stigma and shame that still overshadows all common sense around HIV.

We have got to move beyond the stigma and ugliness around HIV/AIDS. We must do it as a nation and as a people. African Americans we must get a grip. I say this because African-Americans are 52% of all HIV cases in the United States and we are 12-14% of the population.

  1. Families must stop talking about those in their families infected with HIV and start talking to them.
  2. We have to create an environment where people are willing to disclose their HIV status to their families, home and churches.
  3. In fact, we must create an environment where it's even OK to know your HIV status.
  4. Pastors must stop preaching condemnation from the pulpit and begin to preach the love of Jesus. Pastor Jakes said last Sunday that we show we are a Christian when we love our neighbor as ourselves.
  5. Testing must take places in our churches, organizations and homes. Make it a family affair, make it a sorority and fraternity affair. Everyone of the age of consensual sex should be tested. The more we make it OK to know our status, the more people will feel free to tell their status.
  6. Pastors must talk about HIV/AIDS from the pulpit about HIV as a health issue and also make sure that their members have all the practical information about sex, not just the biblical information. For some, it takes a minute or two for salvation to catch up with their living.
  7. Education for people will HIV must become a part of the equation.
  8. Traditional AIDS organizations must step up to the plate like they did in the early days of the pandemic when white men were being buried every day.
  9. We must all become a part of the solution and stop being a part of the problem. We must examine our own lives and communities and ask the most basic question of what must I do to help bring about change, to end stigma and shame? We must all help to create an environment where HIV is viewed as a health issue and not modern-day leprosy.

I have so much more that I could say. This is Real Talk people. We are killing ourselves and each other. When are we going to take the horror out of HIV? I am sad beyond belief that Cicely's life was taken for no good reason. This is madness at its best. Rest In Peace Cicely.

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Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.

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