Public Health Specialist, Legacy Community Health Services
Danielle's interest in health and infectious disease started early in life. She pursued her passion throughout her education, receiving her MSPH in Tropical Medicine from the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and her BA in psychology from Boston University. Her graduate work focused on the epidemiology of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Danielle began her HIV treatment advocacy work at The Center for AIDS Information & Advocacy (The CFA) in September of 2008. She joined the staff at Legacy Community Health Services (LCHS) in April of 2012 as part of a strategic merger between The CFA and LCHS. Danielle's responsibilities include advancing health literacy around HIV science, treatment, and research and helping people with HIV live longer, healthier lives.
Danielle's deeply involved in youth and literacy programs in Houston. Her interests include volunteering as a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters and serving on the board of directors for Writers in the Schools, allowing her to mentor young, bright minds and demonstrate the value and fascination of a life pursuing science.
I am proud to have been born and raised in the South. I love Texas. I love the word y’all. I love cowboys and cowboy boots, BBQs and rodeos. What I don’t love about the South is the conservative and restrictive policies that drive health disparities in the region. Many people refer to the South as the Bible Belt. It is actually more accurate to call us the Chastity Belt. In 2012, when Texas has the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and some of the highest rates of teen STDs, we stay committed to Abstinence Only education. Just this year, Texas refused to accept federal funding for sex education programs that teach kids how to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases with tactics other than celibacy. The reason, according to a spokeswoman for State Health Services, is that its “first choice is that teens chose not to have sex.”
Even in Southern states not as restrictive as Texas, the most permissive programs are Abstinence Plus. This means they teach the ABC’s of sex—A = Abstinence B = Be Faithful C = Condoms. But these programs ban condom demonstrations. Some innovative educators have gotten around this ban by demonstrating “how to put on a sock”.
Decades of harmful policies and millions spent on baseless classes have left the South with the highest rates of AIDS deaths, the largest numbers of adolescents and adults living with HIV and the fewest resources to fight the epidemic. So as the world calls for the end of AIDS in this generation, what are we doing for our young people?
- Elect officials that have your personal health and not your personal life as their priority.
- Demand evidence-based education in our schools and in our homes.
- Demand sex education be taught K-12.
- Adopt education that integrates behavioral, biomedical, and structural strategies.
- Become comfortable talking about oral, vaginal, and anal sex.
- Demand equality and equity. This means discrimination based on gender, economics, sexual preferences and/or race cannot be tolerated.
In closing, pregnancy, STDs and HIV are medical issues, not moral! You can’t prevent them just because you’re GOOD and you don’t get them by being BAD. And since HOPE is not a plan, we must realize that there are biological acts that put you at risk and biomedical tools that can prevent. It is time to turn the tides of the 3 epidemics in the South: teen pregnancy, STDs and HIV. Let’s stand up for ourselves and future generations and take the necessary steps to unbuckle the Bible Belt.
It was during one of my morning conversations with my then boss, Paul Simmons, that my HIV reality was shocked. We were discussing the alarming rates of HIV in Black communities. I’d just learned that in some major US cities, 1 in 16 Black women will become infected with HIV. I began wondering which of the many beautiful, strong, proud, women in my life, including myself, would become a statistic. Paul listened and then asked me if I knew, “How many 20 year old gay Black men will become HIV positive by the age of 40 in Houston?” I don’t remember what I guessed but I’ll never forget what he answered, “1 in 2”. That’s insane! I couldn’t imagine talking to a young gay Black man or being a gay Black man and knowing there’s a 50-50 chance of becoming HIV positive. What kind of powerlessness or anger does this breed in a community?!
These thoughts floated around in my head for a while. And soon they started to sound like the alarming statistics about Black men and violence we heard about in the 80’s and 90’s. Then the statistics started to make sense within that context. The United States has always done a piss-poor job engaging Black men. The American promises of “all men are created equal” and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” have not really been promises made to everyone. For decades we have been discussing the different ways Black men will die earlier than everyone else—Black-on-Black crime, police brutality, drugs, wasting in jail, heart disease, prostate cancer, diabetes…. Now we sadly add HIV to the list. The only thing that’s changed with these Brothers is that we know their sexual preference before we bury them.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve started to mentor a group of young Black gay men. I want each of my little brothers to be empowered to prevent themselves from getting HIV or transmitting if they are already positive. I’m proud to say, that many in the group have completed 17 weeks of HIV advocacy training and 40 hours of HIV science and treatment education. All remain recommitted to educating others and some have since found jobs in HIV.
When we met, I knew this group and I naturally fit together. We have a big thing in common… I love Black men too! I understand why anyone would look at a Black man with longing and want those strong chocolate arms to hold them forever. Black women and gay men should do all that’s in our power to ensure those forevers are achieved during long healthy lives.
… THANK YOU!
In June 1981, the CDC released a report detailing 5 white gay men, with pneumocystis pneumonia in L.A. hospitals. They will forever be known as the first reported cases of AIDS. Because of this report-- white, gay, male became the profile the US used to identify those affected and infected by the killer disease. By August 1981, the CDC had identified cases of AIDS in American women. These cases were reported to the public with no identifying gender or racial information. The consequences of this insufficient data would be felt for decades. Despite evidence to the contrary, women, their partners, and their medical providers did not see women as “at-risk” of getting HIV. Furthermore, it was not until 1993, after 12 years of advocacy, that a comprehensive list of female-related diseases was added to the clinical definition of AIDS-defining illnesses.
To these invisible sisters, I say THANK YOU!
Many people will recognize Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, Ph.D. as the scientist who discovered the virus that causes AIDS. But very few know that this ground-breaking discovery was made by a woman. In 2008, Dr. Barre-Sinoussi and her co-discoverer shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine “for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus”. Since then, she has pursued research focused on curing HIV. We can all celebrate that at the end of the 2012 International AIDS Conference, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi will take the helm as the President of the International AIDS Society.
To this pioneering sister, I say THANK YOU!
Worldwide, many of our most significant discoveries around the uses of HIV drugs have been that it can prevent transmission from mother to child, that in heterosexual couples it significantly reduces transmission, the proof of concept that a vaccine can offer some protection, and that a gel applied before and after sex can reduce HIV acquisition. None of these breakthroughs could have been accomplished without the help of hundreds of thousands of women from around the world who have donated their bodies and time to clinical trials.
To these brave sisters, I say THANK YOU!
And to Hillary Clinton, our distinguished former First Lady and current Secretary of State, you’ve inspired women from around the world to challenge the status quo and to pursue greatness. You have called for an end to gender violence and inequalities. Secretary Clinton was the first US politician to publicly champion an AIDS-free generation.
To this inspirational sister, I say THANK YOU!
I attempted to write a heart-felt narrative. But the truth is, this is how HIV appears to me most days-- a categorized world of A vs. B.
Living with HIV
Dying of HIV