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Policy Brief
A Personal Story

By Lorraine Brown

Spring 2005

My name is Lorraine Brown I have been infected with AIDS since 1986. I am a heterosexual African American woman infected by my husband. I am an advocate for women, children, and families. I started disclosing about 6 months after finding out.

One reason I came out was I needed my family's support. I am a single mother of two girls who at times could be a handful. I told my sister first and it was through her and her support that made it easier for me to disclose to the rest of my family members. At first, they did not have any reaction and had to find out more about the disease. Just like myself we thought it was a gay disease. My family steps in when I was too sick and could not do for myself. Nevertheless, it has been the main instrument behind the understanding, of why I was infected and how it happened. Many women believe that being married or in a long-term relationship saves them; I can say it does not. How many spouses come home and tell you they have slept with someone else? Through my disclosing, it has given our family the awareness and education behind my own status and has brought us much closer due to it. It has also allowed other family members to disclose their status for support in our family. I am just one out of three who are infected in our family.

With having family members who engage in high-risk behaviors, it has made them think and learn about protecting themselves. I always wondered what people thought of me after they found out about my status. However, I also never stop telling, mainly because I want people and other women like myself to know it can happen to them. I would encourage them to be tested and how it makes them more aware of the behavior just behind testing. For example my sister, who is married, was having marital problems and I got her to realize that there are other things going on that she needed to protect herself from before she ended up walking in my shoes. She was tested and the fear of the results was so powerful, that she left her husband due to the highrisk behaviors he engages in.

Now the difference between advocating and activism is how much time you want to put into the effort or cause, and sometimes can make a big difference in how and what you may limit yourself as far as involvement. Activism is being in the front line direct with the politicians affecting protocols, procedures, policies and Medicaid and Medicare etc. that are of value for your family and the community. It is important to be prepared, direct and to the point. And advocate is what you do everyday when you express how something makes you feel whether it be about the care you receive or even the way you are being treated. What is important is to make sure you are going to get the care you need. In addition, it is different for different people. Know what your cause is. What is it that you want to get out of it? Moreover, what is important to you?

I am an advocate; and it has helped myself and family realize that I am worthy of myself and that I first have to love myself before anyone can accept who I am or what I am or for that matter what I have. I disclose not to make friends, but to save another from being infected. I like to make a difference with methods that have worked for others and me. I advocate for others to participate on advisory boards, planning council meetings and talk to them about why it is important for them to be active in the community. Sometimes being at the right place at the right time can make a huge difference in someone's life. Always remember you are the CEO of your health and you have the right to fire and hire who you want to be a part of your health treatment.

I encourage women especially to become empowered, to strive in making goals, become more active in their care, and lead a productive life. More and more, women are becoming the number one population in the country infected by HIV, 1 out of 4 infected everyday. In addition, most of them being heterosexual. This is not just a gay disease; this disease affects all of us in the community. It is everyone's problem. Let your voice be heard and make the communities out there become aware of what is the real deal.

When disclosing remember these four important things:

  1. Know the reason why you want to tell them.
  2. Have someone with you who is supportive, so they can support you if you are rejected.
  3. Prepare yourself for rejection.
  4. Remember that even with rejection, something good can come from it. You have left someone with education, with information that they may have otherwise not had.

With the numbers increasing, we need to open our eyes to the real picture. Let us reach out and join with determination, persistence, and ambition; we can strengthen one another through education and awareness.

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