Facing the Facts

Uncovering the truth about HIV.

By Kellie C. Murphy
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Nov. 12, 2008

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But Emma also reveals something startling: She still hasn't disclosed her HIV positive status to any family members.

"I withdrew from everyone, at least on a personal level," she says. "I've been positive now for seven years and none of my immediate family know. I do have a support group that I attend, but in our community, we don't talk about it. There's this stigma. As people find out, they treat you a lot different. It's a prejudice in our community."

When Emma has tried to share her story, the response has been negative. "So you don't get the opportunity to say, 'Hey, have you been tested? I have, and I found out what my status is.'"

The negative feedback is often due to attention paid to men on the "down low," or DL.

The DL is the term for not identifying as a gay male, but having a sexual resume that implies otherwise.

"We're easily distracted," says Abdul-Khabeer. "I think one of the biggest distractions we had was the large media presentation of the 'down low.' That didn't have anything to do with us. Yes, we have men who have sex with men who have sex with women. But the focus became men on the 'down low' and the gossipy aspect of that and not about the fact that what he does is really irrelevant. It's what you're doing to yourself--putting yourself at risk."

This means that the No. 1 preventive tool for HIV/AIDS isn't an assurance that you're with a man who isn't gay or bisexual. It's listening to your inner voice, being prepared to walk away from a potentially harmful or dysfunctional situation, and being content with being alone, which doesn't require a set of tests, but a certain level of self-respect and higher standards.


Community College of Philadelphia has a diverse student body. There are attendees from every age, racial and socioeconomic group. The CCP Women's Center was created in 2002 to identify and meet the needs of female students in an environment that promotes diversity, understanding, equality and mutual respect. Dr. Claudia Hearst Curry, founding director of the Center, began doing routine confidential HIV testing at the Center a few semesters ago because of the high incidence of infection among women and because of her personal mission to empower women of all ages.


"When I look at my background and examine my career, I see that I've always done things that involved empowering and helping to develop women," she says. "I knew that the women I was counseling didn't have a clue. Not to put them down, but they were dealing with situations that they didn't have to be in, and I wanted to help them."

Curry created a pilot program, a seven-Saturday workshop series. She recruited students as test subjects and put a curriculum together with classes on low self-esteem, conflict resolution and financial empowerment. She wanted to examine the short-term impact of empowering students. The results became a book, Understanding the Empowerment Phenomenon, released last April.

Curry came to her professional work for personal reasons. "I didn't have very good relationships with women, whether in or outside of my family," she says. "During the workshops, we established a 'sister pact' of strength through the knowledge that we weren't dealing with the stresses of life alone." It pains Curry, she says, to see women disrespecting themselves and shunning other women.

"When I do my self-esteem training, I'm really big on how we need to support each other as women," she says. "I had a woman in her 50s in my workshops who'd been living with a functional alcoholic for 30 years, and because of what she learned, she finally kicked him out of the house. She'll graduate with a liberal arts degree from St. Joe's soon. So if we have resources and information that other women can use, don't hold it back."

Curry thinks women resist sharing information with each other because they don't want other women to know more than they do. "But when you give, it comes back to you," she says.

Curry believes it's imperative to build bonds with women at midlife.

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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Ouch! said... on Nov 14, 2008 at 07:45AM

“The number of Black men who have sex with other men is also alarming. What is more disturbing is the number who don't think it is "Gay Sex" because they also sleep with women. These same men are coming home to their wives and kids after doing there homeys... pretty much disgusting and an obvious factor of where it's spreading from.”

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2. Brook Singletary said... on Nov 17, 2008 at 09:13AM

“Being someone who is committed to preventing, treating, and eradicting HIV/AIDS, I was excited to read this article. I must say I was extremely disappointed. To begin, it was an interesting aspect of the disease to write about but it was obvious the writer was not familiar with the disease. The statement, "Grandma has AIDS" is offensive and tackless. The stigma that still exists with the acronym AIDS is very real and reading this statement immediately gave the impression the author is not senstive to the real discrimination facing people living with AIDS. Her statment, I'm sure, was to breathe some type of light humor into an otherwise heavy topic. It was out of place and not appropriate. Secondly, the phrase, "full-blown AIDS" does not exist. No one on Earth has "full-blown AIDS". Someone is either CDC-defined as having AIDS or they are not. If they are suffering from an opportunistic infection because of a compromised immune system, they are still living with AIDS, not "full-blown AIDS". Again, this was another sign that the author is not familiar with the world of HIV/AIDS because, while this phrase is common is street-vernacular, it is not accepted or used in the medical field of HIV/AIDS. Therefore, if you are going to write a credible piece on HIV, please check your facts. Lastly, the statement of, "Philadelphia-specific HIV statistics are grave..." is interesting. I say this because, perhaps had the author looked at national statistics, or was familiar with HIV, it would be rather apparent to her that Philadelphia statistics may be grave, but not for the staggering numbers. In fact, they are staggering because they are so low. By this I mean the amount of people identified as living with HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia is so low that it is obvious that people in Philadelphia are not getting tested for the disease. This points to the grave fact that there is still overwhelming stigma regarding the disease and what it means to be HIV+. While I was excited to see a paper cover the disease, I was ultimately disappointed to see that it was yet another piece that was not researched and lacked sensitivity to the subject.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Nov 7, 2009 at 11:11AM

“Yes, enough black men are sexing other men to be a problem in this respect-but it's still the exception, not the norm. Most of the black men who get it got it from illegal drugs or a woman-please let's stop believing that a straight man can't get HIV if he's never been with a man. I'm a transplant from DC, the population that is most likely to be gay there (wealthy white men) is also less likely to have HIV than straight Black people, male or female. AIDS IS NOT A GAY DISEASE!”

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4. student said... on Dec 9, 2009 at 03:38PM

“To Anonymous above me- well said! This is an important thing for people to remember.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jan 22, 2010 at 10:56AM

“The reason I think the media made people living on the DL as a major reason why people were getting HIV is because it's true. All you have to do is read reports from the cdc. Also, I would like to say, Yes hiv is not a gay disease, but it's easily spread by anal sex so yes they are more vunerable to get it. I think you should be honest and let people know that hiv is not as easily contracted as you make it seem. I'm assuming you make it like it's so easy to contract so your organization can get more funding.”

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6. Alex said... on May 11, 2010 at 12:51AM

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7. Anonymous said... on Oct 11, 2011 at 09:41AM

“The reason people have this is cause they don't care what happens to other people. This is against the law, a person should be tested for this before they sleep with someone, and if they don't the person that they gave HIV to should put them in JAIL. I spoke with a doctor that told me that anyone can get this, and what goes around comes around, I think god protects those that are not wanting to do this, people make false statements against others all the time, and they will have that done to them, and when I say anyone can get this its not just the black race. With the trouble in the areas of nudity and woman allowing men to hurt them is wrong. If I was to give this to someone, I would walk my set to the jail sell and rest my self for murder.”

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8. Jake said... on Mar 15, 2012 at 01:25PM

“It's so important that we get tested for HIV frequently. I was just tested at GALAEI and I would recommend that anyone do it. They are at 1207 Chestnut St, on the 5th floor.

Their website is: http://www.galaei.org/programs/hiv-testing/”

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9. sabun said... on Oct 1, 2013 at 09:31AM



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