By Boston University Intern Nick Emard
After a long awaited interview, I sat down with BLC member JoAnne C to discuss stigma and the importance of education in HIV communities. The following dialogue is from my conversation with JoAnne.
How long have you been a member of the BLC?
“Well my official badge says 1999, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve been here since 1995. It’s been a long time.”
How has the BLC changed since you have been a member?
“I know way back when I came here it was just like all gay men. I mean they had female staff members and they tried to promote things, but I don’t think at that time a lot women were actually utilizing the services.
“I know that when I came back here and joined the CAB, we tried to get things going for women. So it’s had it ups and downs.
“But, I love when I see new women here. I love when I take Healthy Relationships and there’s a woman in there for the first time trying to navigate through this, and it’s like, ‘You have all the help right here.’ You know?”
In what ways has HIV affected your life?
“Well, I say all the time that HIV saved my life. The resources that I’ve received- I mean it’s kept me housed, it kept me in health care, it even helped [get me] into recovery. I just knew what to do because I landed in an HIV positive program, or a program for HIV positive clients, and they told me, “go to the Boston Living Center, go to AIDS Action, ask questions.”
Have you ever experienced HIV-related stigma?
“I don’t give stigma much thought, I really don’t. I mean the stigma is definitely there because the basic citizen of the United States has no – until they’re affected by HIV- they’re not really educated on it. And, people really have no concept of it.
“You really have to embrace this [diagnosis]. It’s just a piece of me – like my eyes are brown, okay my eyes are brown – I can’t change that. I can’t change the fact that I have HIV so I have to find a way to live with it. “
Do you think that there’s stigma within the BLC community?
“I don’t think it’s within the BLC as far as status is concerned… It’s just like another family, you know? We become a family, and we don’t even know it, and as far as stigma within the BLC? I don’t think so.”
I would like to thank JoAnne for sitting down and taking the time to tell me her story. As a longtime member of the BLC, she has a lot of insight to offer and she gives a positive spin to any situation that she comes across. It was a pleasure interviewing her and discussing her perspectives.