For Tiffany Stewart, ‘truth is paramount’ in relationships

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VOICES from… Orangeburg, S.C.

My boyfriend and I have an open and honest relationship. I asked him straight out if he had ever had sex with or desired to have sex with another man and he said that wasn’t his thing. Until he gives me reason to believe otherwise, I have to trust him.

Truth is paramount for me. I am a big girl. I can take it. Just let me know what I am up against.

People are not honest because they are afraid of what other people will think. We have to somehow do a better job of cultivating relationships that are centered around the truth.

A majority of the women that I work with are African American. It really sparks something in them when they are asked to consider that their partners may engage in homosexual behavior. There is a great deal of denial. Women just don’t want to accept that. I think that has a lot to do with why, as Black women, we are in the state that we are in concerning HIV.

Orangeburg is a small college town in South Carolina, with two historically Black colleges. It is about 60% Black. The unemployment rate is higher than most counties in the state and we are also amongst the top three counties with the highest rate of HIV infection.

The stigma surrounding HIV is huge in here, and not just among the people who are in need of services. A colleague of mine, who also works in the health department’s HIV/STD division, recently freaked out when one of our clients who is positive asked to use her phone. And she should know better. The only way to desensitize the stigma is to educate people with the truth.

I love facilitating discussions and empowering people to take care of themselves. Black people, especially young Black people, already have so much against us. I am inspired when I explain something to someone and they say, “Wow. I didn’t know that!” Even if just one out of twenty people are able to get something out of what it is that I do, then I feel that my work is not in vain.

As told to Keith Green.

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