Positive Organizing Shero: Teresa Sullivan
Teresa Sullivan is an HIV educator and advocate. She has worked with Philadelphia FIGHT for the past 10 years and is a board member of the Positive Women's Network-USA (PWN-USA) and an active member of the PWN-USA Philadelphia chapter. Her work is grounded in activism, and she strives to make sure that people living with HIV can live free from stigma and discrimination. We were privileged to speak with Teresa in recognition of her work and Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
This interview is a part of the series Positive Organizing Sheroes -- Highlighting Women Making a Difference. Positive Organizing Project (POP) is supported by the Gilead Sciences, Inc. Learn more about POP here!
How you did you get involved in the HIV field?
I am a woman who is living with HIV for 22 years. I went to the same program around 12 years ago that I teach today at Philadelphia FIGHT. Teach Outside is a five-week program for people living with HIV who have been incarcerated. I got connected to the program while I was falsely incarcerated and after I got out, I got my charges dropped. I began to volunteer and a group of us who had graduated from Teach Outside formed an outreach group called the Support Center for Prison Advocacy, a neighborhood committee, and organize community events and raise awareness about mass incarceration.
I joined the board of PWN-USA in 2009. I'm a member on their policy working group. We focus on issues that affect women living with HIV, as well as our community at large. There are so many intersectional avenues that are at play with the HIV epidemic. We can't just focus our work on HIV, we have to reach out and partner with other people in other areas. For example, we are engaging on the current administration's immigration ban. Not only does this ban affect people and women living with and affected by HIV, we are a country of immigrants and that's what makes this country great.
Tell me about the Standing Up to Stigma trainings.
Through our AIDS United Positive Organizing Project (POP) grant, the PWN-USA Philadelphia chapter organized trainings for people to be standing up to stigma champions. We train people about how to change the language of stigma when addressing people living with HIV. We start at the individual level, focusing on how you talk about yourself. The stigma that is attached to HIV is stopping people from getting tested, getting into, and continuing care. Changing the language we use is one part of eliminating the stigma attached to HIV. Additionally, we include training about HIV basics such as how people who are living with HIV can remain healthy and how people who are HIV negative can stay that way.
We have trained people living with HIV and service providers such as case managers, doctors, and faith community. We have continued to train people about stigmatizing language, even after our POP grant ended. As people living with HIV, we are the subject matter experts, and we want to share our experience and build up our allies.
How are you going to recognize Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day?
Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a very important time to educate women who are living with HIV, young girls who might be at risk, and the community at large. It is for our whole community, not just people who are living with HIV. I am grounded in education because that is what I do. This is a good opportunity to hold a community education event -- we're going to have fun!
The PWN-USA Philadelphia chapter is organizing a health event for women and girls called Our Bodies Ourselves. We'll cover sexual health, getting tested, and PrEP for women. We are also going to talk about the importance of being registered to vote and the implications of any changes to the ACA.
We're bringing together a number of presenters, including our local health department and Planned Parenthood. We also have a diverse group of women, including women of trans-experience, sharing their experience. There will be dancing, singing, food, and education -- we're going to have fun!
How do you stay motivated in this work?
I make sure I stay connected to my support systems. I have several avenues for support, I know how to pick up a phone and call other women who are also living with HIV and get re-energized.
I also know how to not put too much on my plate and recognize when I need to back away from something if it becomes too much. Because my health, self-care is part of who I am as well.
Sarah Hashmall is communications manager at AIDS United.