The church lady has HIV. After 12 years of painful silence, Kathi Winter is no longer afraid to let people know that her body carries the deadly virus that causes AIDS.
She's white, middle-aged, and a faithful churchgoer. She admits to looking a bit like the famed church lady, played by funny man Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live years ago. Winter doesn't fit the old stereotype that only gays, prostitutes, and drug abusers are at risk for HIV.
This week, Winter disclosed her HIV-positive status in a short video clip during the Disturbing Voices conference at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. As the video clip played on five jumbo TV screens before 1,690 mostly evangelical leaders, Winter sat in the audience fighting back the tears. She lost the fight, but Kay Warren, wife of Saddleback pastor Rick Warren, sat nearby. Afterward, they both admitted to reporters that they were "bawling their eyes out" as the video rolled.
Now in its third decade, AIDS has shown many faces. In 2005, its face increasingly is female. More than 50 percent of all people living with HIV worldwide are women. In addition, women without HIV carry a huge share of the burden in caring for family members living with HIV and for orphaned children who have lost parents due to the virus.
Tragically for Winter, the evangelical man who led her to new life in Christ also infected her with the virus. In the early 1990s, Winter had been in a relationship with the man, who became quite sick and was diagnosed with HIV. Winter knew she had to get tested. But her physician refused to administer an HIV test, since she did not fit the typical profile for someone at high risk for exposure to the virus. After testing positive, Winter said, "I went into a hole ...1