Through the Facing AIDS photosharing initiative, you and your community can join the thousands of Americans who are helping reduce stigma and promote HIV testing by putting a face to AIDS for World AIDS Day (December 1) and beyond. Karen Walker, a nurse and a mother, wrote this powerful description of why she is Facing AIDS as part of the AIDS.gov Facing AIDS anti-stigma photo initiative.
Why do I Face AIDS
By Karen Walker
I face AIDS because of my life experiences with two small children who became my foster children in 1984. At that time, my husband and I had three adopted children living in our home, along with two unwed teen mothers and their babies. We received a frantic phone call asking if we would please take a 4-year-old girl and her 8-year-old brother whose mother had died the day before from AIDS. The children had not yet been told of their mother’s death, but the foster mother in whose home they living, upon hearing of their mother’s diagnosis, demanded that the state child welfare worker come and get the children immediately. When the worker arrived, the children had been placed outside on the steps with their belongings and had not been allowed back into the house. On the drive to our house, they were told of their mother’s death. We were only supposed to be an emergency placement for one night as we already had seven children in our house, but it soon became clear that no one else would take them, so we agreed to keep them until the state could find them a permanent home.
They lived with us for 14 months, during which time the first HIV antibody test became available. I brought the two children to a hospital to be tested and we learned that the little girl was HIV positive, having contracted the disease in utero.
After 14 months, an adoptive home was found for them with a single parent in another part of the state, but their lives were immediately pitched into turmoil. Their pre-adoptive mother had gone to register them for school and a school official had revealed the little girl’s HIV status, breaching confidentiality. An article appeared in a local newspaper that a child with an AIDS-related condition was trying to enroll and all “heck” broke loose. She was never allowed in school that year, and her brother could only attend with a court order and police escort, walking through picketing parents and TV crews, despite the fact that six lab tests showed that he was HIV negative. For the first week of school, parents pulled their children out of his classes. It was only after the State Commissioner of Education advised those parents that their children would be considered truant, that they agreed to leave their children in school. The boy’s desk was isolated in the classroom, he was not allowed to play with anyone on the playground, and he was told not to use the drinking fountain.
At home, the children had bricks thrown through their windows, they were asked not to attend church, and they endured people running away from them in public places. Life became unbearable for them, and after 6 months, the adoption failed. A social worker came on a Friday to pick up the little girl, and on Sunday, we drove out and picked up the little boy.
Shortly thereafter, we legally adopted the boy. For many years, the state wouldn’t tell us where his sister was. When they did tell us, we found that she had been moved to another state, and was in a great home with people who were in the process of adopting her. Sadly, she passed away 3 weeks after her 21st birthday from an AIDS-related illness, but at least we were able to be a part of her life again.
THIS IS WHY I FACE AIDS EVERYDAY. The discrimination and stigma are less than they were in the mid-1980s, but they are still very real for many people. I will fight for as long as I can, or until the stigma is gone, and a cure is found.