The first time I considered this question was at the 2010 United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in Orlando. A colleague and I stopped by a booth where they were promoting the “Greater than AIDS” campaign. We were asked to write our deciding moments on a piece of poster board and then have our pictures taken for inclusion in the campaign. My colleague quickly wrote his reason for doing the work that he does and then stepped up confidently to the photo booth to have his likeness captured. I, on the other hand, was a little slower to formulate my answer. Finally, under the pressure of the moment, I scribbled, “When I learned that my friends were infected,” and smiled for the camera. Although I smiled widely for that picture, the words I wrote did not resonate with my spirit and I have been pondering the answer to that question ever since.
This past November, at the 2011 USCA, I again stopped at the “Greater than AIDS booth and this time when asked to take my picture with a deciding moment placard, I promised the gentleman manning the booth that I would return after lunch–I never went back. I still had not worked out what was the driving force for a lesbian like me to work in this field. I never believed that I had that one story to tell about the specific day or time that impacted my life so profoundly and led me to dedicate my twenties and now my thirties to working in the field of HIV/AIDS. As a black woman, statistics say that I am at high risk for HIV infection. However, as a lesbian, statistics also say that my risk of contracting HIV through sex with another woman is low. When I first started seeing my current partner, her number one requirement before sleeping with her was getting an HIV test. Although I had been working in the field for over 10 years, I was a little taken aback that a lesbian would be primarily concerned about HIV above other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Nonetheless, we both took our tests and moved forward from there.
As I contemplate the question further, I realize that what I wrote in 2010 was not far from the truth. Because of my job, I became a source of information for my friends and family when it came to HIV/AIDS. About two years ago, I received a private message on Facebook from a friend I had not seen or lived in the same country with for over 20 years. In this message, my friend told me that she knew a young lady who was HIV positive and she wanted to know how she could help connect her to resources. This friend reached out to me because she had seen my online profile and information about what I did at work. Of course, I immediately helped her find the information she needed to help her friend.
As NWGHAAD comes and goes this year, I now realize that I have had many of those moments. There have been more than a few times over the last 10 years when friends have come to me for information and resources about HIV/AIDS because of the work I do. I now see that my deciding moment is not the result of any one particular event. My deciding moment happens every day when I offer help and support to people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS–some of whom I consider my friends.