In Washington state in the northwest United States, a woman is attempting to become the country’s first statewide elected official who is HIV positive.
Judith Billings is a candidate for state schools superintendent. It’s a post she held once before, but she’s running again after going public with her HIV status. Ms. Billings is board treasurer of the National Association of People with AIDS. She spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about her candidacy and HIV/AIDS.
Ms. Billings says, “You know, when I was considering whether to run or not, actually, it never occurred to me that HIV would be any kind of an issue with it. And then people said, ‘ooh, wow!’ I think when I went public with my diagnosis that was the first time that someone in statewide office, I guess, had been public about a diagnosis. But it did surprise me, the reaction.” Ms. Billings says she’s also surprised at the level of ignorance about the disease more than twenty years into the epidemic. She says, “It really is sad that at this point, this far into the disease, that many people still do not understand that people who are HIV positive can live very active, in essence, normal lives as long as they take their medications and take care of themselves. And I think a lot of people still have the idea that it’s totally debilitating and that you can’t do the things that everybody else does.”
Judith Billings has been HIV positive since the early 1980’s and was formally diagnosed in 1995. She became infected from donor sperm during artificial insemination while attempting to become pregnant. However, shortly after diagnosis, anti-retrovirals came on the scene and greatly improved the quality of her life. Her T-Cell count, an indication of the severity of HIV infection, is now in the normal range.
Her husband is not HIV positive and the couple, in their 50’s, began using condoms. She says Washington state has had HIV/AIDS education in schools since the late 1980’s, adding she would ensure the program is continued or expanded if elected as schools superintendent.