“I believe that when there is a face to add to an issue, it brings more power to that issue.”
When Veronica Brisco began her involvement in HIV advocacy four years ago, she became one of these brave faces fighting for the cause. Her inspiration to get involved started when she learned there were more than 900 people waiting to receive medicine from the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) in South Carolina at that time.
After getting involved she realized the amount of work needed in order to educate the public on both the spread of the virus and the elimination of stigma and discrimination because knowledge is power and when people are armed with information it helps to reduce the spread of HIV, stigma and discrimination. Veronica finds that many people do not know the facts about HIV and are often surprised by the answers she gives them.
“I, living with HIV 12 years prior to actually starting to do this work, was not really 100% informed about many things related to HIV.”
She contributes her own previous misinformation and that of others on a lack of education that people refuse to get because they think “it could never happen to me.” Veronica hopes for the implementation of comprehensive sex education in schools and although it may now seem that all the things needed to make this completely possible is still yet to come, for example finding the proper person at the school to teach the facts and medically accurate information. She prays that eventually it will help to eliminate the spread of HIV and other STIs.
“A lot of times people like to turn a blind eye and in reality our children need to know the complete, scientific information about STIs and their transmission. I think the fear of people providing that information to youth is a really big hindrance to progressing forward.”
She believes that the general population, especially in the “Bible Belt” region of the South, does not want to recognize that sex is an issue that is not going to go away.
So when Veronica received the news telling of the progress that comprehensive sex education legislation had made in the state local legislation, she was pleased that something was passed. The amount of people that went to support it at the State House was also an excitement for her and she hopes it will continue.
Veronica currently works for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and enjoys her work with them. She says the best part of her job is the opportunity she has to take those who have HIV or AIDS to meet with local legislators. This is a new and often empowering opportunity for them and Veronica loves how “their faces light up.” It is also a powerful experience for the legislator because now they have a face to add to the issue.
“But we have to remember that you don’t have to be HIV positive to be an advocate.”
This simple statement is the motto shared by Veronica and her son and although it is simple, it is remarkably powerful. It reminds everyone that we have a duty to help in this fight and support those who are HIV positive like Veronica does everyday.
Veronica’s work with the South Carolina HIVAIDS Council is also an outlet for her passion for HIV advocacy. There she is able to help empower women with whatever difficulties they might face. She says that each woman has their own challenges whether it may be that they feel uncomfortable telling their doctor about what is really going on or maybe even a close family member.
“The greatest part for me in that is seeing a woman move forward in her life, at any level or capacity. But most of all the women that come out and say I will no longer hide in the shadows, I will be open about my HIV and not be ashamed is what she considers a very high level of success and empowerment.”
Veronica has chosen to follow this path and be open about her HIV, although it has not always been easy. Like during her first time meeting with a legislator after deciding to be open about her HIV status, when he awkwardly avoided shaking her hand once he learned she was HIV positive. Her experience demonstrates the need for proper education, even among those we feel are educated enough to be leaders in our state.
“There IS a stigma associated with lobby work and advocacy.”
The greatest stigma Veronica and others working in HIV advocacy face is that everyone who fights for their cause is HIV positive. In fact, a family member once asked her if everyone she worked with was HIV positive, when the reality was that only two of those in her office were. This is why Veronica and her son created their motto and she deliberately includes it anytime she gives a speech, to remind people that everyone is needed to advocate for HIV.
“Sometimes it’s the little things that add more to the situation and help it to be more successful than the major things. If we get a hundred constituents to call into the office, that’s powerful. Sometimes more powerful than us walking through the door with one, two or even three people because that legislator now seriously understands that this is a real issue for the people that vote for him or her and they will be more likely to provide a listening ear.