Tammy Watson, 58, got sick in 2010. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. At that point, her husband was sleeping around. She was faithful.
Their marriage was in turmoil.She thought her husband was poisoning her. But in reality, seven years later, when she weighed 95 lbs., and was in the ICU about to die, she was diagnosed with AIDS.
“I was heterosexual, and married. I didn’t think AIDS pertained to me. I was ignorant. And let me tell you, ignorance is not bliss,” Watson said. “The one thing I have to say if I could say anything to the world is it doesn’t matter if you’re married, it doesn’t matter if you’re faithful, it doesn’t matter if you’re not married. It doesn’t matter. You should be tested.”
Compass, Palm Beach’s LGBT community center, hosted the Red Hat Brunch, sponsored by CAN Community Health and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Every guest got a red hat decorated with flowers, feathers and sparkles.
The red hat signifies the color of the ribbon for HIV, and is a symbol of powerful women.
But Jackie Geratano, Medical Case manager at Compass, said the event is about more than honoring women with HIV.
“A lot of the time, people assume this event is just for women, but it’s important for everyone to know the causes and struggles of the HIV population. Whether it’s women, men, African Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ, we’re all in this together,” Geratano said.
Compass also showed a documentary about female activists called “Nothing Without Us: The Women Who Will End AIDS.” The theme of the year was Nothing About Us Without Us, meaning women should be involved in the legislation being created about them.
“This isn’t just a statement. This is a call to action. Those who are directly affected by policy should be the driving voices behind it,” said Director of Health Services Neka MacKay.
The brunch was provided by Big Momma’s House of Sweets, a cheesecake bakery. They served omelettes, biscuits and gravy, pastries, chicken, pasta, and fruit.
“I love Big Momma’s and anytime there’s food around at an event, it just brings people together,” Compass CEO Julie Seaver said.
This event has become Seaver’s favorite over the years, as in the past, it’s empowered women diagnosed with HIV, like Watson, to share their stories and motivate others.
“A lot of the time, women’s voices are diminished, and the fact that this event honors everyone, no matter their HIV status is great,” Seaver said.
Olga Sierra was one of the attendees and a health coordinator with Vita Nova, a resource to connect the youth with school, work, health care, and housing.
“We brought some of the youth in our program to the brunch so they can network and hopefully use the resources Compass has to offer,” Sierra said.
One of those resources is free HIV testing, something Watson is advocating for.
If she could impart just one piece of advice to someone it’s this. “Please, Please, Please get tested. Get tested once a year. We all have sex and there’s no shame in that. The spread of AIDS can be stopped if people would stop being afraid, and get tested.”