Deneen Robinson, who’ll receive DFW Pride Movement’s Icon Award, wants people who are positive to know they can still live a great life
TIFFANY AUSTIN | Contributing Writer
Following a period of homelessness after leaving a marriage, Deneen Robinson decided not to let the setback determine the course of her life and moved to Austin with her two daughters to attend college.
During her last year of school in 1992, Robinson became ill and was hospitalized. She learned that she was HIV positive and was given about six years to live.
Despite the devastating news, Robinson still managed to finish school with a 4.0 GPA, and she decided she would always strive for the same excellence in the remainder of her professional and personal endeavors.
“The diagnosis took my life on a different course,” Robinson said. “My course can be summed up in this statement: ‘I want to plant seeds so my daughters will remember me.’ This is the statement I made to myself as I heard I had HIV for the first time. This is the statement that marked the journey in living with, understanding, educating and ultimately becoming an advocate for my and others impacted by HIV.”
Her quest for knowledge about her disease led to her wanting to share the information with others. Robinson always had a passion for educating, writing and public speaking, and her HIV diagnosis gave her an unexpected sense of empowerment, leading her to devote her life to removing the stigma associated with HIV and homosexuality in the African-American community.
“I wanted to see African-Americans really work together as a community and support the work that is necessary to stem the tide of HIV in our community,” Robinson said. “I would like us to respond openly to the internalized homophobia that we are dealing with as a community.
“As a community we are gifted in so many ways and we have allowed others to label us, name us, categorize us … all these things to defeat us,” she said. “We cannot afford that anymore. We are dying due to our choices, our fears and our silence. We must begin to heal and help each other so we can respond to the devastation that is being caused by HIV.”
Robinson began as an educator for South Dallas Health Access Inc.’s Margaret K. Wright Clinic, now the Peabody Clinic, then moved on to helping individuals in the last stages of life due to conditions related to AIDS at the Legacy Founders Cottage, also in Dallas.
Robinson went on to create support and education groups throughout North Texas, including At The Kitchen Table, a woman’s group she created in 1999, and to have her works on HIV education published in Newsweek and several other local and national publications. She has also made numerous television appearances on behalf of HIV/AIDS education, including on The Tavis Smiley Show.
But perhaps her most significant contribution to the LGBT community is the work she’s currently doing as an education coordinator for HVTN 505, where she conducts research to find an HIV vaccine, and her work as a patient navigator for Project H.O.P.E., a study looking to re-engage hospitalized individuals in HIV care.
Always a spiritual woman, Robinson did not allow her diagnosis or sexuality affect her quest for religious fulfillment in a Christian context. In 2004 she became a member of the Living Faith Covenant Church in Dallas and began ministry outreach, serving as the director of external ministries for her church.
Twenty years after her diagnosis, Robinson is in an 11-year committed relationship with a “wonderful woman” and has refused to allow her HIV status to negatively determine the course of her life.
“I have a very accomplished family including a spouse who I love deeply and two daughters,” Robinson said. “I am very proud of their respective accomplishments and proud to be their mother.
“They remind me that toiling and tilling in order to plant seeds is worth the work,” she said. “Until I die, I will live out the mission to create a world that I want to live in and work hard to leave my spot better than I found it. I want individuals living with HIV to know it is possible to not just deal with HIV, but have a great life. It is possible.”
When DFW Pride Movement Executive Director Derrick Spillman decided that he wanted to throw a gala honoring those in the African-American community who are making a difference in the DFW LGBT community, Robinson came to mind when he was selecting who to bestow the prestigious Icon Award.
“Deneen was selected for the Icon Award because of her diverse background in HIV prevention and education in the Dallas LGBT community. She daily displays her commitment to helping educate people about the disease and works for an amazing program that is trying to find a way to keep the disease from spreading,” Spillman said.
“Deneen walks the walk and talks the talk. Her passion to help stop the spread of this disease has taken her across the country seeking knowledge that she has freely brought back and shared with her community.”
‘Celebrating Our Own’
The DFW Pride Movement’s 2012 Trailblazer’s Hall of Fame Awards will be at 8 p.m. June 29 at the Angelika, 5321 East Mockingbird Lane. The event is slated to be a Red Carpet “White Tie” Affair with this year’s theme being “Celebrating Our Own.”
The ceremony will be followed by an afterparty at PLUSH Night Club at 1400 Main St. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at DFWPrideMovement.org. For more info, contact Derrick Spillman at email@example.com or 214-440-9300. This year’s honorees are:
• Rising Star Award: Jai Makokha, Harold Steward, Ivan Nolen, Shemar Collins Dupree.
• Trailblazer’s Award: Roy Murray, Teedee Davis, C.D. Kirven.
• Pioneer Award: Isiah Payne, Carter Brown, Angela Amos, Joy Williams.
• Icon Award: Alex Byrd, Felicia Miller, Auntuan Wiley, Dennis Coleman, Deneen Robinson.
• Legend Award: Donald Sneed, Garfield Lee, Jr., Betty Neal, PT Dupree, Kelexis Davenport, Clinton Blade aka DJ 008.
• Legendary Honorary Recognitions: Alpha Thomas, Ray Dyer, Glen Hunter, Rickey Baker.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 22, 2012.