Photography by Art Holeman, member of ASMP
Advocating for those living with HIV is more than a full-time job for Lorraine, as she finds herself “advocating” whenever she has the chance. Six months after her own diagnosis, Lorraine began to speak out about being infected with HIV. With the strength and support of her sister, who Lorraine chose to tell first, she disclosed her status to her extended family and friends. As Lorraine continued to talk openly about being HIV-positive, she learned that five of her family members were infected with HIV. Recognizing the significance of how HIV was affecting her life and her family, Lorraine knew she could have an impact sharing her story and talking with others about the importance of getting tested for HIV and seeking care if infected with the virus.
Two years ago Lorraine was recruited for a position (on the other side of the country!) as a Consumer Advocate. But she felt that in order to be a good advocate to the community she first had to know and understand the community. So Lorraine decided to make the move, get to know the new city, and only then begin to educate and advocate for its residents.
Working in the community the majority of each day, Lorraine believes her main responsibility is to “dispel risk through education.” Lorraine helps the community to see that HIV does not discriminate and that there is not a “typical” HIV-positive woman; Lorraine believes that every person should be educated about HIV and its transmission. “We are infected differently, affected differently, and stigmatized differently. You cannot generalize this disease.”
Lorraine regularly talks with groups of women in domestic violence shelters, group homes, and churches about getting tested; she talks with HIV-positive women about getting into care and the importance of staying in care; and she talks with women who have lapsed from care to try to figure out ways for them to overcome their barriers and obstacles to receiving medical care and social support. Lorraine also educates organizations about how HIV/AIDS can affect their group and works to educate individual employees about how to support their HIV-positive coworkers and clients.
Lorraine tries to bring two colleagues with her when she enters a community setting to talk about HIV: a social worker to offer additional support and an HIV-test counselor to offer on-site HIV antibody tests. She always brings an ample supply of brochures, pamphlets, and lists of web sites to ensure that the women she talks with are aware of the many resources available on HIV disease.
As many HIV advocates know, it can be difficult at times to openly talk about HIV disease (especially as it relates to women) due to a particular political or social climate. Lorraine often finds that women are unaware of how the disease is affecting their peers: “I hadn’t heard about this disease in so long, I thought it went away.” She constantly works to refute the age-old claim that HIV is a disease that only affects gay men. It is a challenge which she accepts dutifully because she knows that she is a valuable tool in her community and because for every woman she empowers, Lorraine becomes that much stronger.
The women featured in our profiles are real HIV+ women and people working in the arena of HIV care. The Well Project respects and safeguards our profilee’s confidentiality – we will never reveal last names, addresses or places of employment. We may even provide an alias so that our profilee’s first names remain private. If you have any questions or comments about our profiles, please contact us.