Today’s Stigma Story is written by L*. She is a home-schooling mother of 10 children ages 5-14. Stigma Stories is a short series running through the week of World AIDS Day (Dec 1st) to highlight the need for education about HIV/AIDS. The Truth Pandemic Campaign was created to help combat social stigma through ongoing educational initiatives.

This past fall our family started a new home-school co-op. A few days before it began, the board found out we had children who are HIV + and asked me to meet with them. I was a little nervous but went prepared to educate assuming that once they knew the truth about HIV they would be fine with it. Unfortunately I was wrong. Even after being educated they ended ups asking me to stay home from the first day of co-op stating they needed time to figure out how to deal with my children being there. When I told them I was not okay with that, they gave us the option of going but having me follow my youngest child with HIV around to all his classes even in the hallways. ( I guess they were more worried about my younger child infecting someone than my older one)

We ended up deciding not to go to co-op that first day. I just couldn’t bring myself to do something as unnecessary and ridiculous as follow my son around as if he were a threat to everyone when I knew that was so far from the truth. We stayed home and I hoped that by the next week they’d have worked through their issues and things would be okay. However, two days before we were supposed to go to co-op I got another call, this time it was to let me know that although they had already assigned me my helping jobs weeks earlier, they were now switching them so that I’d be in all of my son’s classes. Something they knew I would not be willing to do. I got the feeling they were trying to make us leave. The lady I spoke with was very angry, she accused me of being irresponsible, of not teaching my children to be peacemakers, of not being “Christian” because if I really cared about other people I should be willing to stay with my son in order to ensure everyone’s safety.

When we got off the phone I didn’t know if we’d end up going to that co-op or not. I was able to speak with Carolyn Twietmeyer, Executive Director of Project HOPEFUL, over the phone and she was such a huge help. She reminded me of my legal rights regarding discrimination and disclosure and gave me so much support. My husband and I decided that we would neither quit the co-op nor go along with their discrimination. I emailed the board to let them know I was going to go to co-op and do the jobs that had been previously assigned to me. I was a little worried not knowing what would happen we I got there, but I felt I needed to be a good example for my children who will likely have to deal with stigma their whole lives. The thought of them complying with others’ fear based demands made my heart so sad, I knew I could not do it either.

Fortunately, the day before going to co-op I was told over the phone that the board had decided to totally drop the issue. That they were going to go on as if they never knew my children were HIV positive. There was an edginess in the woman’s voice and it wasn’t a friendly call but I was relieved.
We are currently attending that co-op but every week is difficult. Although on the surface the issue was resolved, there is still a lot of tension there. Many of the women on the board won’t even look at me. We are leaving at the end of the semester