"People see me -- I'm blonde, I live at the beach, I'm the girl next door -- and when we go into schools, you should see their faces change when I tell them I'm HIV positive. That's why my AIDS education work is so important -- they'll remember me in the future."
-- Laura Roberts
After I finished reading Karin Timour's article "White Women and HIV," I was amazed at how little "we" (read: HIV prevention educators, AIDS service organizations and society at large) think about white women in relation to HIV. When I say white women and HIV, I mean testing, statistics, diagnosis, prevention information or even the fact that white women would even be considered at risk.
Do you know that I have never been offered an HIV test? Any time I had a test it was because I asked for it. Why is that? I am a white, college-educated, working professional and no one seems to think that I could be at risk. I think it is because "we" still buy into "risk groups" despite our efforts to get rid of that term.
How many times have you read a report that mentioned the percentage of white women diagnosed with HIV or AIDS? My experience is that it is a rare occasion at best.
For example, I just finished pulling up the May 2001 NIH Fact Sheet labeled "HIV Infection in Women" and it does not even mention white or Caucasian women. If I had read that report and had no clue about HIV, I would think that only African American and Latino women got HIV. We must start including all the statistics even if they are low in number. White women need to hear that there are white women who are living with HIV/AIDS or they will never understand the possibility.
I question dividing our prevention messages into individual campaigns. Aren't we all at risk? Shouldn't the posters and brochures come out at the same time with all races equally represented instead of this patchwork of racial representation coming out one by one?
My friend Kellie is a white woman with three children and educated as a Licensed Practical Nurse. She was diagnosed with HIV in October 2000. Kellie was tested for HIV in 1988, 1989, and 1990 because she was pregnant and that was during the big push to get pregnant women tested. During the next ten years, no one offered her the test. She said, "I went to my family practitioner at least two times a year during that ten-year period and HIV was never even mentioned. In 1999, I was having 'female' surgery and asked for an HIV test, it came back negative. While separated from my husband at the end of 2000, I received a call from my county health department informing me they needed to come to my house and talk with me. During the home visit, they disclosed that my husband had tested HIV positive at a hospital in South Carolina. I got tested, and the results came back that I too, was positive."
Kellie re-connected with her family practitioner and disclosed her HIV status during an appointment. The response was "Are you sure?" and "How did you get infected?" Even after her conclusive test results, she still had experiences where people could not believe that she was HIV positive. She said, "It was almost as if society has been so accustomed to hearing about HIV in relation to the gay community or the IV-drug using community that no one was willing to believe that I could actually have this virus in my body."
Even upon her entry into a local HIV clinic in Georgia, the intake representative stopped half way through the interview and said, "You know this is a clinic for people who have HIV and AIDS." By this time, Kellie was so frustrated that she wanted to yell at the top of her lungs, "Oh my God, I must be at the wrong clinic." But, she wasn't.
Women Get HIV/AIDS! White Women Get HIV/AIDS!