March 3, 2010
A few months after interviewing Sheryl Lee Ralph on my podcast, Straight Girl in a Queer World, I received a call from her asking if I would like to sing and tell my story at her 18th Annual DIVAS Simply Singing! I screamed and jumped up and down! Singing in a show with Sheryl, Patti LaBelle, Patti Austin, Sarah Dash, Loretta Devine, Siedah Garrett, Miki Howard and Roslyn Kind just to name a few and the divine R & B Div-o of the evening, the smooth Kenny Lattimore. I was D.I.V.A., as Sheryl says: Divinely Inspired and Victoriously Anointed to be an HIV DIVA! And so it is. This Straight Girl in a Queer World became the HIV DIVA!
So when I got another invitation to attend the First Annual DIVA Awards hosted by Sheryl Lee Ralph on February 27th, I was there. Billed as "A Very Precious Evening," it honored Oscar Nominated Director Lee Daniels and Oscar Nominee Mo'Nique for their amazing work in the powerful film Precious.
Lee Daniels' speech brought up some tough language regarding how black men on the DL [down-low] were killing black women. Strong language in that it was angry, judgmental and accusatory in my opinion. Thankfully Mo'Nique took the stage and addressed the same issue in a much less judgmental way, expressing her love for the men and how important it is to use protection and calling on compassion.
Sherri attended the DIVA Awards and captured some highlights, including speeches by Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lee Daniels and Mo'Nique; and a performance by R&B singer Kelly Price.
No doubt Lee Daniels is a talented director, but his take on black gay men or the DL was more about the problem than the solution. Raging about how they should be brave and come out while at the same time blaming them repeatedly and, in his words "they're f--king killing our women!" wouldn't get me out of the closet!
The solution is to empower black women and all women by encouraging self-responsibility. Leading upward in movement towards the solution instead of the downward spiral of what is the perceived problem, men on the DL. Gay black men could use a break with their bad press already. It's enabling black women to think of themselves as victims, making it harder for them to get up on their feet and into action.
R&B singer Kenny Lattimore and HIV DIVA Sherri Lewis. The two performed together at DIVAS Simply Singing in 2008.
One of my friends who is black, straight and positive expressed how women don't believe he's straight because of all the press on black men on the DL, and prejudge him because he has HIV. They automatically don't trust him -- making love and relationships that much harder to achieve while trying to live a good, full life with HIV/AIDS.
I have always told women to carry their own condoms and be the responsible one in their own sexual choices and conduct. Don't expect the man to be prepared. If he isn't into it, well, like the old saying goes, "no glove, no love."
No coincidence that today the Black AIDS Institute had two articles on their website addressing these issues: one by Phill Wilson the Executive Editor, CEO and Founder of the Black AIDS Institute, Greater Empowerment for Black Women; and the other a blog, HIV in Black Women Is Not About DL Men.
Let's give women more credit and stop minimizing their power. We don't need to put a group down to raise a group up. We are better than that. We are stronger than that. We need to work together.
Empowerment for all women, rich, poor, middle class, handicapped, black, white, yellow, lesbian, transsexual and oh yes, Jewish which are all colors and nationalities.
HIV DIVA Sherri Lewis and longtime HIV/AIDS activist Sheryl Lee Ralph.
Films are a very powerful medium. They inspire, they educate and provoke thought and often controversy. The film Precious is all of that. I encourage you to raise your voice on this important issue and share your opinion or even better yet, your experience. And if it is possible for you to see the film Precious, I give it 5 red ribbons!
Sheryl Lee Ralph's DIVAS Simply Singing is coming into its 20th year of song, entertainment and most importantly raising awareness and money for HIV/AIDS especially for women.
Your HIV DIVA,
Sherri Beachfront Lewis