New York Times Profiles New York City Support Group for HIV-Positive Hispanic, Black Women Over Age 50
The New York Times recently profiled the Divas, a support group for black and Hispanic HIV-positive women over age 50 in Harlem, N.Y. The Divas, organized through Iris House -- a 15-year-old HIV/AIDS service center that operates many other specialty support groups -- meets weekly to discuss sexuality and sensuality, medication regimens and mental health. The members also participate in exercise classes and life management courses.
According to the Times, the group's members -- who range in age from 50 to 70 -- "represent the changing face of HIV/AIDS." Twenty-seven percent of all AIDS cases in the U.S. are women, compared with less than 5% two decades ago, and black women are 23 times more likely than white women to contract HIV, according to 2005 CDC data. Blacks and Hispanics combined make up 82% of new AIDS diagnoses among women but account for 24% of the nation's female population, according to CDC .
In New York City, the communities around Iris House have some of the highest HIV rates in the country, the Times reports. In Harlem, 116 per 100,000 people are HIV-positive, compared with 46 per 100,000 people in New York City and 18.5 nationwide. Many of the Iris House clients are indigent or have been homeless, victims of domestic violence or addicted to drugs, Ingrid Floyd, executive director of the center, said. Many of the Divas group members contracted HIV "from unfaithful partners or from lacking the self-esteem to demand safe sex," according to the Times. The group is, "more than anything, about rebuilding that self-esteem," the Times reports.
Floyd said that many of the center's clients are "not as empowered, not as educated as their [white] counterparts, and hence they are being hit most" with HIV. "A lot of times we have clients who have gone into depression, and they isolate themselves," she said, adding, "So, they stay in their apartments and they don't come out, because they think they are going to die." According to the Times, many members of the Divas said that the group has helped them talk "openly and honestly" about sex, as well as reflect on how they contracted HIV and their expectations for future relationships. "It is a very difficult decision to decide to live positively," Frances Melendez, a psychologist who runs the group, said, adding, "It's much easier to say 'forget it' and let the disease take its course" (Sara, New York Times, 5/18).