This month is Women’s History Month and a perfect time to salute and celebrate the unsung heroes, women who work hard in the community battling HIV/AIDS.
<p><p>Being known as the AIDS lady doesn’t faze Monica Shepard. With over 25 years of experience, this work has become her passion and a labor of love. She says she hears, “There’s the AIDS Lady”, all the time by clients in the supermarket or just walking down the street with her son.
Shepard’s HIV career started in 1984 as a phlebotomist in San Francisco’s Castro district, before universal precaution was the rule, and fear was at its peak. She was one of the many medical warriors drawing blood and assisting the many young men suffering and dying.
She said in those days, people who did the work had to place compassion over fear.
“I stand on the shoulders of my grandmother, who raised me,” says Shepard. “I saw her work in Tuberculosis’ Camps in the early 60s in St. Louis, Mo., and watched as she ignored the stigma off others who had fear and ignorance of the disease, which at the time, had no vaccine.”
Shepard says it was her grandmother, who talked her through her personal fears of HIV.
In 2000, Shepard’s focus shifted from the medical field of HIV to providing social service and education in Contra Costa County. There, she witnessed the changing faces of HIV, from white gay males to women and women of color. She saw how HIV affected children: shame, mental illness, violence and substance abuse entered her equation.
In 2003 while working at Napa Solano Health Project, she rebuilt the program there to meet the needs of the affected community. She initiated an open pantry, a Food Bank, where clients could come to obtain foods. The secondary space became a safe place to be HIV positive in Solano County.
Clients used the food bank to exchange information, network and discuss the medical and social issues that plagued them. The Solano AIDS Coalition – a client advocacy group – was formed from the gathering.
Currently employed at Planned Parenthood Shasta Pacific, she is the HIV/AIDS Program Director of Solano County, helping HIV positive residents obtain basic needs like Housing and social services.
She spearheaded Taste, Talk & Teach (TTT), a client-centered luncheon for positive people and their partners. The TTT is held every quarter. Clients are treated to a free lunch and special guest speakers are invited to this two-hour meeting that is often standing-room only.
March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The day is a nationwide observance that sheds light on the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. Join with the Bay Area Positive Women’s Network – USA chapter for a free community forum on HIV disclosure & transmission laws and a lively discussion about upholding the human rights and dignity of people living with HIV.
The event will be held Tuesday March 10, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Office of AIDS Administration, 1000 Broadway Suite 310, in Oakland. Lunch will be provided.
For information and to RSVP, call Cynthia (at 415) 317-1568.