By Jesse Brooks
Like so many social problems, the AIDS epidemic is most destructive to those members of society, who are most vulnerable because of its pattern of poverty and social neglect. Initially, in 1981, the media portrayed AIDS as a white gay disease. In 1993, the U.S. CDC expanded its case definition of AIDS to reflect fuller spectrum of the disease, including adding a condition specific to women and those more prevalent among injection drug users. The same year the U.S. FDA approved female condom for sale in U.S.
Women of color, particularly Black women, have been especially hard hit and represent the majority of the new HIV infections and AIDS cases among women. Stopping the epidemic will increasingly depend on how and what extent its affect on women and girls are addressed.
Perceptions of “I’m not at risk” continue to fuel the transmissions. Shelley L. Stinson who has been an HIV Prevention coordinator with Alameda County Office of AIDS Administration, for over 10 years, remembers as a young African American woman in college in 1993, having no clue as to the extent of her risk. Stinson an Oakland native attended Stillman College located in West Tuscaloosa Alabama. She says on campus, she had a circle of friends that included a majority of gay men and some started getting sick and some died.
After graduating with a degree in Business Administration she returned to home and in 1995 began working in HIV. Her first position was at The African American Advocacy, Support-Services & Survival Institute (AMASSI), a organization that was the first to recognize that African Americans needed cultural emphasis on their messages and education.
In those days Stinson saw no women at all as clients. She remembers from appearance, it was still a gay men’s disease, but now include large numbers of Black gay men that attended the center for services. She reflects on those days, saying, “The majority of the clients that came in were scared and dying and it seemed they were just living for the day. There were a lot of substance abuse issues after they receiving a positive diagnosis”. She remembers that although their budget was small, the center offered weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings and support groups, such as Black Men Xchange (BMX) that was well attended. Read more