My name is Justina I am a black woman living with HIV in Hollywood and I am a member of Women Alive. At one time, Women Alive was in consortia with another women's organization called Prototypes. They got together to form WomensLink for Services. I started going to WomensLink for meetings and so on I learned about Women Alive.
From the very beginning, I felt at ease and comfortable with Women Alive's programs. They did not ask me a bunch of questions or make me fill out a lot of papers before we started to talk. The staff and facilitators actually really listened to me and paid attention to what I had to say.
I have never felt anything but "good vibes" from the women that I first met at Women Alive. Then the moved to the little house where they still are today.
You know what really got to me and kind of bothered me was that one time I overheard a comment. This person commented that Women Alive was run by a bunch of white dykes. And she said it in a very derogatory way.
Well first of all, I am a dyke so I kind of took offense, even though I am not white. Second of all it's not just gay women who come to the Women Alive Facility. We have a lot of programs and all kinds of women participate. I feel that it would be much better if people would come to Women Alive and see all the women who come there. We are from all walks of life and we are black, white, red, Latina, gay, straight, and whatever else we may be. We are not worried about the color of any one woman's skin. NO! What we do, is worry about whether or not women get what we have coming to us, in terms of AIDS services.
Whether it's in how we are treated by our doctors and our care providers or if our case managers are getting us our housing or our mental health needs are being met. Women Alive is here for the women. We do just what we say we are going to do. We mentor HIV positive women and help them to become empowered individuals. Our members know that, no matter what, they are very important to us. Women Alive is really here for all of us who are living with HIV and AIDS.
This little house that we all come to is here for all of the women no matter what our sexual preference is. When we walk into Women Alive, we are at home.
Someone to Talk With
On the HotLine Days, we have a lot of other activities going on and all the kids are running around having fun. There is a very laid back feeling to this house.
Women Alive does not make anyone feel bad about anything they do or have done in the past.
You can bet that you will always have someone else to talk with. Most of the time there are peer counselors available. Women Alive runs on the efforts of volunteers. We operate with 2 full time staff and 2 part time.
Even our program director will take time out to sit and listen to you. She will always get you a cake for your birthday and flowers if you are sick. Whenever there is a support group or focus group meeting, she will always make sure you have something to eat or to snack on. She never makes you feel "less than" simply because she is staff. She won't tell you that she has work to do and can't take time to help you with "whatever".
She cares about us. The staff really doesn't have to go out of their way for us, but they do. They could just do what's in their job description and nothing else. But instead these women will come to the hospital to check on you if you are sick. They will come to your house and see if you are O.K. They will call you and see if there is anything at all that they can do for you.
Our Treatment Advocate, Marilyn, is sick right now. When she first got sick, she was in the hospital. When she got out of the hospital, she was still pretty sick. But, she still did Treatment Advocacy from her home. She called a lot of the women in her program to check on them. She called the office and told us that Judy had a doctors appointment and somebody needed to go with her. Our Treatment Advocate is in the hospital again. The staff of Women Alive have all been there, right along with the rest of the women at this house. I'm so glad that they are not worried about how big of a spot their name or logo has on something. Instead they are more concerned about the women.
There are other women who are affiliated with our organization. Some are well known in the community. They have worked very hard to advocate for the needs of all women with HIV for over 10 years. They will go out on a limb for us. They are not just out there for one person. They always ask us what we think and what we want. There are many women here, who are afraid to speak publicly. There are some who do not want a lot of people to know their HIV status. There are.....some who might be deported if people knew.
There are some who might lose their children or their apartment or their job. But, you can believe that when our spokeswomen go to a conference or any other public event, they can say with a lot of love that it's about the women. When they says that, they means us; all the women with HIV that they know and those they don't know.
What puzzles me is, why are people so worried about things that are not important to women with HIV and AIDS?
Maybe we can all just worry about the important things and not be so petty. We understand that various ethnic communities must address the epidemic in their own neighborhoods in their own way and we are fully supportive of those efforts. Still, as infected women, we are not going to play-into the "divide and conquer" strategies of government. We, as women, must not fall into the same trap of complacency as gay men have seemingly fallen into.
No One Owns Us
We will go to any agency we choose. If we are white, and we need some service that a gay Latino AIDS organization is offering, then we will go there. If we are Asian and we need something from an African American agency, then we will go there. No one owns us. We are free agents, all of us. We will go where we need to go, for what we need to survive. And maybe some women with HIV have more money than others with HIV, but that doesn't mean they experience any less stigmatization or shame associated with their disease than we do with ours. Some might have better access to care and we have to address access issues, especially for our undocumented sisters. But, that doesn't mean that all positive women are not faced with some of the same issues, in terms of mortality and illness.
As women with HIV infection, we embrace every woman living with this virus and we will help each other to stay strong and live as long as we can. We will embrace cultural identities, while celebrating our diversity. We will continue to organize in order to fight our real enemy: AIDS.
This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.