On September 7, 2012, my life changed forever upon hearing the loss of a fellow sister in the struggle, Cicely Bolden. I was devastated by the crime and questioned my own thoughts about disclosure and my safety as an HIV positive woman. The idea of someone taking the life of another because of their status, fueled anger, tears, and uncertainty of my own value to society. I had to do something. I just didn't know what. I sent out a message to one of the family members to convey my condolences and sadness about what happened to Cicely hoping to show there were people out there who did not share in the same beliefs of what the media depicted her to be. As I read many articles, I could see there were so many, positive and non-positive alike who felt she was wrong. How could they have known what Larry Dunn said was true? Was it because of the half-truths being reported? I received a response from the father of the Cicely's children. They were words of comfort and gratitude. I felt some relief as I shared with him my concerns and I let him know, I would seek out ways to bring honor and dignity to her life. We continued to correspond and I was asked to become the voice of Cicely. I was honored by doing so. The Wake There was soft music piping throughout the room. A huge banner displayed a beautiful picture of the woman she was. Nothing like the picture we were seeing in media outlets, The room was quiet, the lights were dim. Cicely laid in an a beautiful oak casket adorned with gold handles. There was standing room only. Many of her family and friends had to stand outside of the room. As services started, one by one came to the podium to share their personal stories of who she was. Words shared were outgoing, tough, outspoken, honest, loving, caring, mothering, and God-Fearing came out of many of the family and friends who attended. Funny, we didn't hear any of that did we? Tears flowed from my eyes. I wish I had met her. However, I was able to forge a friendship with her twin sister. I still hadn't walked up to the casket to also say my goodbyes. It was too much of a reality check for me. This could have happened to me. This could have happened to many of us. I finally made it to the podium after much hesitation, shared who I was, and delivered a message of love and support from the many advocacy organizations around the country who were committed in not allowing Cicely to die in vain. I went on to say, we will be there to see this to the end, make no mistake about that and we will come up with a plan of action to change laws so that what happened to Cicely will never happen again. The rights of HIV positive women will be protected. As it ended, I finally walked up to the casket. There she was... I told her I was sorry for this happening to her. Hot tears started to flow down my face. I whispered, "You will rest in peace". I wanted to share this with you because, I wanted positive women to not be afraid to disclose their status in spite of all that they have heard and seen. The surest way to end stigma with this disease is by continuing to share our stories of struggles and triumphs. We can end stigma one story at a time. We can end stigma that is associated with this disease. We can create changes in our communities, policy, funding and services provided for positive women if we just open our mouths. Our stories are not our own. There is another positive woman who was just newly diagnosed, like Cicely, waiting to hear her story through us. We cannot allow another woman to fall victim to ignorance and stigma again. Once we have done our best, shared our stories and begin to live our lives outside of our diagnosis, we can all stand in solidarity and say, "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, HIV positive women are free at last!" Free from shame, guilt, stigma and blame. We are free to be the person we were born to be! Peace and Love!
Thank you so much for you post today. I feel so sad for this loss, yet inspired knowing I have sisters such as yourself in the world. I am still working toward full disclosure, not there yet, but hearing stories like this reminds me how important it is to end stigma and pain. Much Love, Lynn
Thank you for this blog! Cicely needs to be honored as the wonderful woman she was (and lets not forget mother)! The media has an opportunity to bring awareness to this cause and chose instead to sensationalize this story. It is such a shame and this is why so many women fear disclosure. Thank you for speaking up and being a voice!
TO MSPLUSAMERICA AND ALL OTHER WOMEN LIVING WITH HIV;
I HAVE BEEN POSITIVE FOR 28 YEARS AND I CAN REMEMBER SO MANY TIMES THAT I THOUGHT THAT I WOULD LOSE MY LIFE BEHIND MY STATUS AND CAME CLOSE SEVERAL TIMES TO BEING KILLED. AND HERE 28 YEARS LATER IT IS STILL HAPPENING. YOU SEE UNLIKE CICELY I HAD EVERY REASON FOR SOMEONE TO KILL ME FOR THE SIMPLE FACT, THAT I WAS A PROSTITUTE AND AN DRUG ADDICT. IT WAS GOD THAT SAVED MY LIFE BECAUSE HE KNEW THAT I WOULD NOT BE AFRAID OF DISCLOSING MY STATUS. EVEN WHILE WORKING THE STREETS I WOULD TELL THEM I WAS POSITIVE AND THEY WOULD STILL INSIST THAT I DON'T MAKE THEM US A CONDOM. THEN THERE WERE THE RAPES OVER AND OVER AGAIN WITH MEN THAT WOULDN'T USE CONDOMS. MY LIFE WAS A SAD AND HURTFUL ONE I INFECTED BY MY MATE OF 9 YEARS WHO DENIED IT UNTIL HE DIED AND HE TOOK HIS EX-WIFE AND A FEW OTHERS WITH HIM. HE BLAME ALL HIS STD'S ON ME AND WHEN HE FOUND OUT THAT I DIDN'T HAVE THEM HE WOULD BEAT ME! IF HE FOUND ANY CONDOMS IN MY POSSESSION HE WOULD BEAT ME! IF I DIDN'T WANT TO HAVE SEX HE WOULD BEAT ME AND GO OUT TO GET ANOTHER FEMALE TO BRING HOME TO HAVE SEX WITH WHILE I HAD TO WATCH OR PARTICIPANT! SOME MEN ARE LIKE THAT AND TOO MANY OF GET AWAY WITH MURDER. CICELY WAS NEWLY DIAGNOSE HOW DO WE KNOW FOR SURE THAT HE DID NOT INFECT HER? SO IF THERE IS ANYTHING THAT I CAN DO OTHER THAN JUST SHARE MY STORY, I'M WILLING TO DO IT. I WILL OUT FREELY OF THE STIGMA THAT WE AS WOMEN HAVE TO ADDRESS ON A DAILY BASIS. I HOPE THAT THIS WILL HELP SOMEONE OR OPEN UP OTHERS TO WHAT WE AS WOMEN HAVE TO DEAL WITH CONCERNING ABUSE AND HIV. WHO INFECTED WHO? THAT THE QUESTION! BUT MY LORD AND SAVOIR JESUS CHRIST IS MY ANSWER! THANK YOU JESUS HALLELUIAH!!!!! HE'S A HEALER, A KEEPER, AND PROVIDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I missed a couple of words but I hope you can fill them in!
Thanks dear for sharing with us, I feel so sad knowing that my sisters are being killed because of stigma honey. thanks for sharing your story with us I in particularly fill so wounded may the Lord God protects us all as we continue in the struggle and may the soul of our beloved sister rest in peace Amen.
Thank you for your blog it provides some comfort for positive women like myself. the truth is that as women positive or not our value in this society has been historically compromise. The roles of mother ,sister ,daughter and grandmother appear to have connoatation of superhero, villain, bi&&&h,and other negatives images. until we as a society recognize the value of the women who birth nations. we will always fight for our lives and place in this society
that is just a few of the so many things happening to HIV positive women. my sisters it's worse in Uganda. we have a lot to do. thanks for sharing this with us.
The irony in my HIV status is that although I was a prostitute and crack cocaine smoker for over four years, I did not get HIV until many years after I had changed my life. I was tested repeatedly and everything kept coming back negative. Then after meeting someone I decided to try to be in love with and stopping the use of condoms, He betrayed and infected me. I have a very strong personality and have never been one to seek or care about the approval of others. When I was diagnosed, I immediately was open about my status and condition with everyone and I mean EVERYONE in my life, including friends, relatives, neighbors, employers, and even strangers if the topic of health came up in conversation. I saw no point in trying to hiding my status to have people like me today, only to find out tomorrow and turn their backs on me then. I feel that fair weather people are unnecessary to my life no matter what or who they are. My personality was already so strong that I had ran most people who couldn't handle the truths of life away from me long ago. I'm glad to say that all my family, friends, and even 2 of the boyfriends I had at the time have stuck by me. (The third boyfriend was the one who infected me and stopped seeing me I believe due to a guilty conscience. The other two are still in my life and are still testing negative. I am lucky to have them, but that's another story.) I think sometimes it is the amount of pride and confidence that we show in ourselves that helps to influence the way others see us. I know that my way of handling my status would not work for everyone. I do think however that all of us should realize that HIV does not change who we are as women. I strive not to be a victim of HIV, but a woman who has increased her strength and learned to control, surpass, and truly live life while having a positive status. Hopefully those of us who do not fear sharing our status and showing the world that we are still productive and desirable members of our communities and our world will some day make it easier for more women to find the strength to fight both HIV and the stigma that goes with it.