It’s Your Health: Lesbians and HIV/AIDS

The following is excerpted from Taking the Lead on Black Women’s Health by Beverly Saunders Biddle
Sixteen years into the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the myth that lesbians are not living and dying with HIV/AIDS persists. There is a perception held by the general public, the gay and lesbian communities, many health care providers and researchers, and even HIV/AIDS educators and activists that lesbians are at the lowest risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS (some still believe that lesbians are at no risk). This false belief is fueled by the interaction of four primary factors: the focus upon woman-to-woman transmission of HIV, limitations of HIV/AIDS surveillance data, the notion that “real” lesbians don’t get AIDS, and the failure to recognize difference between identity and “behavior”.
The emphasis upon woman-to-woman transmission and the lack of reliable data have contributed to the belief that “real” lesbians don’t get AIDS. Lesbians cling to the ideology of lesbian immunity which results from disowning lesbians who engage in other behaviors which do put them at high risk for HIV. Lesbians who are living with and who have died from HIV/AIDS are often stigmatized within our own communities. Issues of race and class have contributed significantly to the invisibility of lesbians with HIV/AIDS. Lesbians who have contracted HIV through injection drug use or sexual relationships with men have been discounted and not accepted as “authentic” lesbians. Women in low-income communities, homeless shelters, the sex industry, and prisons are even further stigmatized and dismissed. The fact is seldom reported that women with HIV/AIDS who are often women of color from poor urban areas. They have a personal history or associate with people who have been acquainted with drugs or street culture. Some of these women may have had sex with men to obtain drugs, money, food, or shelter, or who may have been incarcerated. They are also often women who have or are currently in relationships with men (30-40% in home studies).
Finally, it is not who we are, but what we do that puts us at risk for HIV/AIDS and any other sexually transmitted disease. Even lesbians are at risk for HIV/AIDS through: needle sharing during injection drug use, tattooing or piercing; woman-to-woman transmission, artificial insemination, sex with men, transfusion of blood or blood products, exchanging sex for money, drugs, shelter, food; and sexual assault including domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse.
For more information on HIV/AIDS write HIV in Prison Committee of California Prison Focus, 2940 16th St., Room 100, San Francisco, Ca. 94102-4929.