SisterLove Inc Founder Dázon Dixon Diallo on Why She Took on the Anti-AIDS Establishment

SisterLove Inc is a 32-year-old sexual reproductive health rights and justice organization with a core focus on HIV and sexually transmitted infections at the intersection of other challenges to women's sexual reproductive health and well-being.

Dázon Dixon Diallo, MPH, is founder and president of SisterLove Inc, in Atlanta, Georgia, a sexual reproductive health rights and justice organization with a core focus on HIV and sexually transmitted infections at the intersection of other challenges to women’s sexual reproductive health and well-being.

Transcript

What propelled you to establish SisterLove Inc?

The main reason that we got started was because in 1985, when Rock Hudson went public with his AIDS diagnosis, there was very, very little information at all, if any, about the impact of the burgeoning epidemic on the lives of women. And for some reason, that announcement sparked women's attention or interest. And the local AIDS service organizations that had been predominantly almost 100% only serving gay and bisexual men up to this time, because we’re about only 4 years into the epidemic, had no clue what to say to these women who were calling—some panicking, some curious, some wanting to know whether this condition or this experience that they were having was actually AIDS—they didn't know what to tell them. And the thing that they thought to do was to call us at the Feminist Women's Health Center where I worked to see what we were doing, what we knew, how we could help them be a better service to these folks.

We were working the phones that day, and I was really curious about it. So I became a volunteer, along with a coworker of mine, because we said, well, this is of interest to us. She at the time was also working on establishing a lesbian-focused donor insemination program at the clinic. So working in the LGBTQ space was her thing, my thing was working in Black women in sexual health at the clinic, as well as being involved in our services. And so that's how we started volunteering. We helped them create a prevention program for women, along with some other women we coordinated with. And after a while, they go through their changes, they dropped the women's work, and so we convinced my organization to pick it up. We picked that up for a couple of years.

Here's the curious part. The Democratic National Convention comes to Atlanta in 1988. And in that year, it was also the year that Randall Terry and a whole bunch of extremists from the right-wing conservative movement, the antiabortion movement, the antichoice movement, just besieged Atlanta. All the local abortion clinics were under siege for the better part of a year following the Democratic National Convention. The convention left and the protesters stayed, and it really taxed our organization.

It was at a time when President Reagan was not only not talking about HIV, but had also doubled down on the Hyde and Helms amendments [originally passed in 1976 and 1973, respectively]. So there was not going to be any federal funding to do HIV-prevention work at all for us, because we did abortion—so there was no way we were going to get those resources. And that was the primary source of funding for HIV or AIDS prevention at the time. So financially doing AIDS work was a burden, but also, because honestly, we were, at that time, predominantly White feminists; older women, not young, like I was—I was the youngest person on staff; I started working there when I was 18, so by this time, I'm 20—and things are really, really not looking good for their support of AIDS, because it just didn't relate; it wasn't relevant to them and a lot of the women that [they] served. But it was relevant to most of the women that we served, who were young and Black and Brown.

And so just like a whole lot of people start organizations, mostly it's either out of anger because something is not being done when it should be or it’s simply because at that time somebody has to do something because nobody else is. Both of those were the reasons that I got started doing the work of SisterLove, because I left the clinic at that time when they, for a second time, sundowned my women's prevention program. That's when I said okay, somebody's got to take this on, and that's what we did.