We have been a foster and adoptive family for a little over 10 years now. We have six beautiful children. With this decade of experience, I have come to know that I know a little about a little and I’m an expert at nothing. This has become invaluable to me as a parent of children who are HIV positive.
When we adopted our first child who is HIV positive, we made the decision to live a very open lifestyle about HIV and our family. We are what you might call a “disclosure family.” That is, we have chosen to disclose the status of our HIV positive children. Since making that decision, we have received nothing but love and acceptance from our family and close friends.
On a few occasions, however, we have been met with some rejection due to those three little letters. Project Hopeful asked me to write about the instances where we felt some discrimination based on HIV in hopes of providing further education on the disease.
A couple of years ago, I enrolled our children in a private swim school for swimming lessons. Because the owner of the school did not have current information about how HIV is transmitted, she would not allow my children to enroll. Before you get too angry at the owner, she is a very kind woman who was willing to sit with us and discuss HIV. After our discussion, she even held a meeting with all of her instructors at the school in order to provide education to them about HIV. We were asked to and did lead this meeting. We distributed current information about HIV from the Centers for Disease Control website. Some of the swim instructors’ parents also attended the meeting. Afterward, there were no questions, no lingering fears about HIV and, the best part is, our children enrolled in and completed swimming lessons! The kids were embraced and loved by all of the instructors at the school and really enjoyed their time learning to swim. Because of the relationship we were able to develop with her, the owner of the swim school came to our church to watch our children sing in the church Christmas program. While the situation was initially so challenging, God used difficult circumstances for beautiful redemption for our family and for this school.
Recently, we experienced another opportunity to educate a school about HIV. While we have always been a homeschooling family, my husband and I made the decision to enroll some of our children in a small, private school. Much to our surprise, the school principal asked us not to enroll our children who are HIV positive. The principal even told us that he is aware they legally have to enroll them, but expressed a strong fear that other families could discover their diagnoses, leave school, and cause the school to lose tuition money. Ultimately, the concern seemed to be that they would suffer such a loss of students that they would be forced to lay off some of their teachers. We were stunned and broken-hearted. Just like the swimming lesson situation, we requested a meeting with the head of the school, and when we were offered the meeting, we talked about everything. Our plan was to bring in experts, written materials and videos to present to the teachers, staff, parents, and students to educate the entire school community about the process of HIV transmission. The story with this school is still unfolding, but we’ve committed to continue to try to educate people, wherever discrimination arises.
Together we can work to educate our communities about how HIV is transmitted and ease fear and end stigma. The swim school instructor is not our enemy. The head of the private school is not our enemy. Fear is our enemy. Hatred and stigma are our enemies. Being quick to speak and using harsh words . . . that is our enemy. Name-calling, put-downs, and lack of understanding are our enemies. People who just don’t know the facts are not our enemies.
While rejection of our family hurts, and our initial reaction is anger and frustration, we have to know our enemy. If we choose to meet their fear with anger and fighting, we won’t make any progress. Education in love builds community and results in a beautiful picture of redemption for our children. We choose love because love wins every time.
If you or a loved one has a concern about HIV, its transmission or adoption of an HIV positive child, I would encourage you to read through Project Hopeful’s website. They have some great information and resources for you!
We at Project Hopeful are grateful for this family’s willingness to share some of the difficult situations they have faced while disclosing the status of their HIV Positive children. We agree that loving education is the key!