March is Women’s History Month, and WNCAP is celebrating by highlighting a few – but certainly not all – of the women who have been instrumental in improving the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS through public advocacy.
Below, find out more about some of the most inspiring female HIV/AIDS advocates. Can you think of one or more amazing women we missed? Email [email protected] with your nominee.
Averitt founded the Well Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the lives of women living with HIV/AIDS better and to reducing transmission by promoting treatment and prevention for women. She has served on PACHA and is on the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council. In 2000, Averitt hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail—Trekking with AIDS—to foster awareness about HIV.
As the first transgender woman to be appointed health commissioner for the city of San Francisco, Cecilia Chung attained recognition for expediting a law requiring the city to pay for gender reassignment surgery for uninsured transgender patients. She also served on President Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) and is Deputy Director of the Transgender Law Center. She continues to advocate for human rights, social justice, health equality, and other issues affecting the LGBT community. Pretty impressive, considering she had been homeless for 3 years after losing her job. “What launched my own advocacy path was my desire to survive as a trans woman, an immigrant, and a person of color living with HIV,” Chung says. “Next time when you see or hear me, please keep in mind that there are hundreds and thousands of stories from other HIV-positive women waiting to be heard.”
Elizabeth Glaser rose to prominence in the HIV/AIDS movement after contracting HIV from a blood transfusion in 1981. She later unknowingly passed the virus to her daughter via breastmilk. For these reasons, Glaser became a vocal activist on behalf of children who contract HIV, forming the Pediatric AIDS Foundation to help prevent HIV in children. Her speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention is widely considered to be a major landmark in how HIV entered the mainstream political discourse.
After contracting HIV while in the military and pregnant with her third child, Howell-Moree was indicted for nondisclosure, although she urged her partner to use a condom and he never contracted the virus. Her memoir, Living Inside My Skin of Silence, grew out of this experience, and she has testified on Capitol Hill a number of times in support of reforming HIV criminalization laws. She is the founder and CEO of Monique’s Hope for Cure Outreach Services, which tackles HIV-related health disparities in rural South Carolina, her home state.
Mathilde Krim was instrumental in helping to de-stigmatize people living with HIV/AIDS during the worst days of the epidemic. An accomplished research physician, Krim utilized her wide circle of influential friends to raise money and awareness about the growing epidemic. In response to a sluggish public health bureaucracy, Dr. Krim and a small circle of other activists founded amFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research (now called the Foundation for AIDS Research). Dr. Krim was amFAR’s Founding Chairman, and Elizabeth Taylor became its first International Chairman. A host of other celebrities, including Warren Beatty and Woody Allen, would later lend their star power to help mobilize resources for AIDS research.
Indiana native Paige Rawl found out she had congenital HIV in the fifth grade. Two weeks after telling a friend she was HIV-positive, bullies (many former friends) at her middle school began calling her “PAIDS” and harassing her because of her status. Administrators and teachers were no help, and her soccer coach told her it’d be an advantage because opposing teams wouldn’t want to touch her. By eighth grade, Rawl took to public speaking about her condition to relieve the stress from HIV bullying and stigma. In her teens, she became the American Red Cross’ youngest certified HIV/AIDS educator and helped convince the Indiana general assembly to pass antibullying laws. She also made a Nickelodeon documentary for World AIDS day and wrote a memoir called Positive. Not bad for someone who just turned 22.
As a former injection heroin user, Edith Springer had a special window into the struggles faced by People Who Inject Drugs (PWID). She is sometimes known as the Mother of Harm Reduction for her pioneering work in New York in the 1980s. “Harm reduction is a way of life,” says Springer, who would become the clinical director of the New York Peer AIDS Education Coalition. “It’s a way of reducing harm or risk in any practice in which you’re involved.”
Tiger is a powerful HIV-positive Native American AIDS educator and advocate. A national speaker on HIV issues, she won the Woman of Courage award from the National Organization for Women along with honors from amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. She has survived more hardship—including a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis and the tragic loss of her brother and her adopted daughter—than most people, but she remains committed to HIV education in the Native American community.