Tonya Rasberry has gotten used to telling her story. As a Peer Advocate for BABES Network-YWCA, it’s her job. She’s gone around to schools and spoken at public events – telling diverse audiences about how she became a woman living with HIV, and what her life is like now.
Last week, Edge magazine published an article about Tonya, highlighting that Tonya was no less at risk for HIV infection, despite the fact she is a lesbian woman of color.
“When Eric and I were together we shared a lot of things,” she continued, “including partners. … I was always attracted to women and of course I wasn’t going to get a complaint out of him when it came to me living a bisexual lifestyle,” she explained. “Not once did I consider the fact that maybe he also had a private life of his own, and no matter what we were doing behind closed doors neither one of us thought we would have HIV/AIDS affect our lives the way it has.”
Many women who have sex with women don’t realize that they are also at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, according to Kim Chronister, M.A., a therapist at AIDS Services Foundation. “According to my research, HIV can potentially be transmitted by exposure of the mucous membrane (i.e., the mouth) to vaginal secretions,” she said. “Also, shared penetrative toys may be a means for transmission of infected vaginal secretions, according to the CDC. In my therapeutic work with women who have sex with women, simple steps that these women can take to lower their risks of being infected may seem obvious, but unfortunately are rarely taken.”
Tonya calls for dialogue among communities of women to address the risk of HIV for LBTQ women: “I believe that just having the conversation about HIV/AIDS in our [lesbian] community is unbelievably crucial, because as long as a sexually active person is talking about those sensitive subjects it will help us alleviate some of the stigma that surrounds this topic.”
On June 23rd, BABES Network-YWCA is joining the YWCA Rainbow Health Fair and will have information on HIV/AIDS and the psycho-social support services they provide. HIV testing will also be provided by Gay City Health Project. Hope you can make it!