By Aimee Registe — Policy and Advocacy Program Manager at SisterLove, Inc.
SisterLove, Inc. is the oldest women’s HIV advocacy, sexual health, and Reproductive Justice organization in the Southeastern United States. Established in 1989 and based in Atlanta, our mission is to fight against the effects of HIV, and inequities in sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice that face Black women and their families. We do this through education, prevention, support, research, and human rights advocacy in the United States and around the world.
HIV and other sexual health challenges that disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities deeply influence SisterLove's Reproductive Justice work. By centering the sexual and reproductive health experiences of historically marginalized communities, we’re better able to serve our community through offering services, compassionate counseling, and other programs that advance equity. Reproductive Justice is the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. To that end, our work focuses on a myriad of different issue areas: Reproductive Justice, HIV decriminalization, LGBTQ+ justice, LGBTQ+ liberation, birthing justice, and housing.
To advance Reproductive Justice and equity, SisterLove runs various programs that center the health care and social needs of Black women and girls both domestically and globally. We envision a world that compassionately cares for all individuals living with HIV; offers timely diagnosis and treatment; and ultimately, eradicates the disease completely with more advanced and accessible treatment options — and hopefully, one day, a cure.
Since its discovery in the early ‘80s, HIV infection and spread has had a devastating impact on Black communities, especially LGBTQ+ people, Black women, and people with substance-use disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black people account for 41% of new HIV cases each year, despite making up only 13% of the population in the United States. And while the majority of transmission in the Black community is related to male-to-male sexual contact, Black women also have higher rates of HIV than women of other races. And, although Black people make up a disproportionate number of cases in the United States, Black people are also least likely to receive treatment, which increases the likelihood of contracting the more serious illness, Autoimmune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Outcomes are worsened by racism, economic injustice, and homophobia, and the stigma and shame these factors create heightened barriers to access lifesaving care.
HIV is not curable, but treatment options are available and people living with HIV can live healthy and fulfilled lives. Unfortunately, these effective treatment options are not available to all people with HIV. At SisterLove, we know the first step is education and diagnosis. Our Health Education and Prevention Program (HEAP) tackles some of the most common barriers faced by communities at high risk of infection – targeting misinformation, combating HIV stigma, and increasing access to care by providing free HIV and STI testing and counseling. For clients who test positive for HIV, SisterLove provides peer counseling. We also offer support services and referrals to care for women living with HIV. Additionally, HEAP provides testing for pregnancy, chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, and syphilis — as well as outreach services to the community.
Moreover, SisterLove works toward systemic change through its Policy and Advocacy Program (PAP). In coalition with other community-based organizations and working groups, PAP writes statements and amicus briefs, submits public comments, and writes letters to the Biden-Harris administration on a broad array of sexual health and reproductive justice concerns. One of the issue areas we are deeply engaged in is advocating for the inclusion of Black women in clinical trials for HIV medication. Black women are disproportionately affected by HIV, butstudies for the most effective treatment options often focus on cisgender men — excluding other groups negatively affects the ability of doctors to recommend or prescribe medication for a large number of people who need access to treatment, especially Black women.
For example, in clinical trials for Descovy PrEP, the company tested cisgender men almost exclusively. When challenged, the pharmaceutical company argued they did not have enough resources to include women. Notably, this decision not only affects access to PrEP for cisgender women, but also for trans, agender, nonbinary, and other gender-nonconforming people who may face additional marginalization and other barriers to care.
In addition to our clinical services and policy advocacy, we also understand the need to address housing insecurity that many Black people living with HIV experience due to structural racism, poverty, and HIV stigma. In fact, Black people living with HIV are at an increased risk for experiencing homelessness compared to other races of people living with HIV. SisterLove offers direct funding to people living with HIV who are experiencing homelessness.
Lastly, our Community-Based Research Program teams up with research partners, community members, and other key stakeholders to conduct community-led and informed research. We do this because we believe that the communities we work with have firsthand knowledge of the barriers to sexual and reproductive justice that exist in our communities, and they should also be involved in research.
SisterLove is proud of the work we lead in our community to serve people living with HIV. We have a lot planned for the future and we would love for you to join us. If you believe in our mission to end the effects of HIV and inequalities in the communities we serve, become a monthly supporter.
If you’re in the Atlanta area and would like to get screened for HIV by SisterLove staff, click here.