BABES began with a diverse group of 13 women with HIV who met in Kass Anderton’s home for a potluck dinner in 1989. We gathered together to find the support of our peers, something which we weren’t finding at other support groups. In coming together, we found that, although we were different in many ways, we shared common experiences related to HIV and the care we received. We discovered that the issues we faced – such as domestic violence, fear of losing custody of our kids, the need for childcare, medical care by providers who understood women’s’ needs, dual or multiple diagnoses, to name a few – were not being addressed in the AIDS service system.
Each woman spoke of her own frustration with a system designed with upper-middle income white men in mind – a system which not only did not meet our needs, but which penalized us for asking for help. That first night we laughed and cried together, made new bonds, and began calling ourselves “BABES with AIDS“. This name was a way to acknowledge our difference from men living with this disease and to make it clear that we were not going to lose our sense of humor.
We continued to meet regularly in a social setting to support one another, gaining more and more women with each gathering. As our numbers grew and we found that more and more women spoke of their frustration with and alienation from the care service system, we felt empowered to create our own organization of support, advocacy, outreach and education for women with HIV. We formed an advisory board made up of women with HIV and other women who cared about our issues.
The battle to be recognized was long and hard, but in March of 1992 we gained our first funding of $11,500 which we used to hire our first staff. With a phone, a chair and part of a countertop at the Northwest Family Center (a health department clinic for women-centered families with HIV) we started to reach out, support and educate more women and make changes in the service system. Other agencies soon acknowledged that we were an important component of the HIV/AIDS continuum of care. We continued to grow and received our own non-profit status in 1997. This step helped us to grow and reinforced to the HIV community in Washington that women with HIV need their own space, have their own voice and must be heard–not spoken for.
BABES has continued to grow and change since the early days, and in March of 2005 we became a program of the YWCA of Seattle – King County – Snohomish County. Although this collaboration means that BABES is no longer an independent non-profit organization, becoming a YWCA program has been a very positive step for BABES. With government funds for HIV-related services in jeopardy, being part of a much larger organization – especially one that has been serving the needs of women in the Puget Sound Region since 1894! – means that BABES now has access to more diverse resources, and is therefore better able to ensure our clients a sustainable program with long-term viability. BABES clients now have direct access to a variety of housing, health care, domestic violence and employment services, and YWCA clients who are HIV positive now have a built-in, safe place to go for peer education and support.
In 2011, we reconfigured our program to intensify our focus around positive women’s leadership. Now, members will have more opportunities to provide peer support to other women and BABES will continue to work to help women influence policies that affect them and their families. Please check our homepage for updates on these exciting changes.