The 2014 CAHR Red Ribbon Award winner is Darien Taylor, past director of CATIE and co-founder of Voices of Positive Women. The Red Ribbon Award is presented annually by CAHR for outstanding service to the cause of research in a way that has increased our understanding of the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, while enhancing the quality of life of those living with this disease.
When Darien Taylor was diagnosed with HIV in the late 80’s, she was one of very few women living with the virus in Canada. Few HIV positive women meant little support or information that was directed towards women’s specific needs. As the number of women asking for services increased, The AIDS Committee of Toronto and the Hassle Free Clinic created a support group and Darien joined. “That was the first time I was ever seeing another HIV positive woman and it was two years after I was diagnosed,” says Darien.
Along with Andrea Rudd, Darien compiled an international anthology of the work of HIV positive women to bring their unique experiences to life. “Through that, we began to realize that all the women we were talking to were completely unconnected to other HIV positive women, not knowing who else was out there and wanting some sort of connection,” explains Taylor.
When she received funding to form Voices of Positive Women, an organization to empower and support women living with HIV, Darien realized there were some serious gaps in HIV research and support at that time. “There was a concentration of community organizations and research on prevention of HIV, rather than treatment,” Darien explains. “I would receive a brochure all about how to get your partner to put on a condom. It was not what I was interested in: I wanted to know how to survive with HIV.”
Her participation in AIDS ACTION NOW! and Voices of Positive Women helped her to feel empowered during a difficult time. “Even while the treatments at that point were not very effective, it really gave me a sense of being able to do something, in terms of advocating for treatment for HIV positive people.”
In time, treatments did come. “In 1996 everything changed with the introduction of protease inhibitors, combination therapies and viral load testing. It seemed so quick that it made my head spin. It was what I, and so many others, had been hoping and advocating for,” says Taylor. “But I had prepared myself psychologically to die. The knowledge that this wasn’t going to happen in the way that I had expected was hard to turn around.”
But she did turn it around, and with a new future ahead of her Darien worked tirelessly as an advocate for treatment research, patient education, peer support and improvement of quality of life for those living with HIV for over 20 years. She continues to be a positive voice in the HIV community while advocating for effective treatments.
And what is Darien’s hope for the future of HIV research? “The cure,” she says “why not dream big?”
CAHR would like to thank Darien for her continued advocacy for HIV positive women in Canada. Darien will receive the Red Ribbon Award at this year’s CAHR conference in St. John’s Newfoundland.