“I rock the Red Pump to raise awareness, end stigma, shame and blame that HIV brings to the lives of women who didn’t do anything wrong or different to receive such a diagnosis,” said Michelle Anderson, the first openly HIV positive woman to ever run for and win the national pageant title, Ms. Plus America 2011 in the Texas Plus America Pageant. “I rock the Red Pump for women who are living with HIV.”
Anderson, who was diagnosed with HIV in April 1999, has used her diagnosis as a way to educate the masses on the importance of HIV prevention and education. She has been nominated to sit on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in 2010, recognized by the National Association of People with AIDS for the Positive Leadership Award, appeared on CNN/HLN and many other media outlets.
To learn more about how Anderson dedicates her personal life to educating others on HIV/AIDS throughout Dallas and the United States, read the Q&A story below!
Red Pump: Why is it important for women to speak openly about HIV and the issues that surrounds this condition?
Anderson: Firstly, I would like to say I do not have a condition. To say I have a condition would allow people to treat me differently and to have pity on me. I need no pity from anyone. People tend to become emotionally wrapped up in the story and forget the message (smiles). It is important for women to speak openly about HIV to raise awareness, remove stigma and bring forth commonality to HIV infection and most importantly, to end this pandemic one voice at a time.
Red Pump: Are you a part of any support groups? Local or national HIV/AIDS organizations?
Anderson: I am not a part of any support group however; I do see the importance of it especially if you have been newly diagnosed. Support groups provide life saving support and feedback to those who are traumatized by the diagnosis. The national groups I belong to are: ADAP Advocacy Association as a board member, a blogger for The Well Project’s: A Girl Like Me, and a member of PWN-USA. I am also a part of the Texas Black Women’s Initiative in Dallas, TX.
Red Pump: What has been your biggest challenge as a woman living with HIV? How have you overcome that?
Anderson: My biggest challenge as a woman living with HIV is that while I share my story to send a message of hope for those who suffer in silence, I am still met with stigma by those who choose not to listen to the message but rather pick apart my story to keep from identifying one’s own risk. I overcame that by not taking it personal and an understanding when I am met with stigma, it is a time to educate and keep it moving. Those who hear the message are those who needed to hear it.
Red Pump: What are some daily things that you do to help maintain your health?
Anderson: Since I am in long-term recovery, I focus on the 12 Steps, meditate, take an inventory and make amends when necessary. I take time out for me and do things that are not HIV focused.
Red Pump: Is there an HIV/AIDS activist you admire?
Anderson: I admire Maria Mejia. Although we are different nationalities we share similar experiences. I love her tenacity and drive to do whatever is necessary to help end this epidemic. She is a true HIV Activist as well as genuine and passionate about her bully pulpit.
Red Pump: What actions have you taken to fight the stigma against HIV/AIDS?
Anderson: The actions I have taken to fight the stigma against HIV is to share my story, and creating community discussions about HIV to bring commonality to the disease.
4 Things You Didn’t Know About Michelle:
- She’s a Community Mobilizer, a state certified Peer Recovery Coach for the Association of Persons Affected by Addiction, and a consultant for Afiya Center.
- Her story has been featured in the Dallas Examiner and Dallas Morning News with various headlines including, “Living with HIV”, “The Life of A Positive Queen” and “A Hard Lesson to Learn Living with HIV/AIDS.”
- Michelle aspires to create an organization to facilitate change, empower, educate and address trauma in marginalized women that can lead them to an HIV diagnosis.
- In her free time, Michelle enjoys making jewelry and attending Red Pump events hosted by Goody Howard, Dallas Ambassador!
“Red Pump Stories” is an initiative created to document the narratives, challenges, and successes of women living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. This project will further the mission of decreasing the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, and allow us to stand with women who have experienced first-hand the impact of this condition.