African Services Committee Women's Group Speaks Out

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On May 18, 2011 the NY Post decided to publish an 'exclusive' article titled, "Hotel Maid in HIV Shock." The content and subject of this article was in relation to emerging details surrounding the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case.

Their deliberate criminalization and sensationalism of HIV was a blow to all that these women are working towards, and all that our organization and others across the city are working towards. HIV stigma still proves to be NUMBER ONE barrier to HIV testing, treatment and care, and sadly this article did nothing to push us towards our goal of eliminating HIV stigma within the general New York City community. Our women's group called an emergency meeting, as they felt compelled to write to the NY Post to express their sadness regarding this article. Please see their words below.

 

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June 3rd, 2011

 

To the editor—

We are writing to express our sadness and dismay regarding the NY Post article and headline, “Hotel Maid in HIV Shock” published on May 18, 2011. We are a group of HIV positive African women who meet regularly at African Services Committee to combat the very stigma that your article has now magnified in our community.

In an effort to boost sales of your paper, you have effectively endangered the life of a woman and her family, while stifling the entire African community’s grassroots efforts to promote HIV testing, treatment, and acceptance of Africans living with HIV.  Your implication and sensationalism of her HIV positive status, and that of every adult resident in her building, set us back decades in the struggle against HIV stigma. We have always believed that in America our HIV status was confidential, and that we could live a life free of discrimination and stigma. This hope was shattered by your article, and as beneficiaries of safe housing for people living with HIV, created fear that it was our building that was referred to in the article and that we may have been “outted.” 

Your article re-invigorated old myths surrounding HIV within the African community: the myth that HIV is something to fear, and something to be ashamed of. These myths trickled down to us—those living with the daily fear of having our status disclosed.   We heard our own community members’ ignorant opinions, spurred by the hype of the news story; opinions that we have been working tirelessly to combat.

We are faced with the fact that our HIV status forces us to hide a part of ourselves from everyone—including our families. That is why some of us keep our HIV medications in aspirin bottles, that is why some of our heads are bowed in hospital waiting rooms, that is why our brothers, sisters, and even husbands refuse to take an HIV test, and if you now tell us that if we report a crime we may be further victimized, you push us deeper into the background than we already are.  


What is to happen to this woman now? Who will be there to support her? How will she ever go back to the life she had before?  Fear, ignorance, misinformation and stigma make people believe that an HIV diagnosis equals certain death…but it is the same stigma, fear and ill-will—like that encouraged by your article—which will have the deepest and most enduring impact on people living with HIV. 

We write this letter to stand in solidarity with our sister. She reported a crime, and you investigated her health status. As people living with HIV, this makes us afraid to ever report a crime ourselves. Is our HIV status a crime of which we are guilty?

 

We appeal to the African and New York community and ask that you open your hearts and your minds to all of the members of our community who are affected by HIV—honest, hard-working members of ALL of our families. We must stand together, and not let innuendos against HIV divide us. We all must educate ourselves and our communities about the facts of HIV—both here in New York City and on the African continent. We can either stand in silence and let HIV conquer us, or open our arms in acceptance and start a dialogue that will ultimately end the stigma that is killing our brothers and sisters.

We sincerely hope that your paper, and its employees, will consider these implications in the future.

Sincerely—

The Women of African Services

 

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