Every day, Deneen Robinson lives out the credo she learned from her grandmother
Raul Juarez | Intern
Deneen Robinson is a peaceful soul, but her life story is more remarkable than what her calm personality might indicate.
Robinson, 48, believes that “Individuals must have a right to dignity, and to live a life with as much personal dignity as possible.” It is a credo she holds close to her heart.
Robinson was raised by her grandmother, who taught her that “quitters never win.” Her grandmother also taught her that relationships are key to a happy life.
As she was growing up, Robinson faced a number of difficulties, including homophobia and with racism.
“Homophobia in the black community stems from [the community’s] understanding of faith. Any of us who grew up in churches [knew it was] not ok to be [anything other than] what that church decided you should be. And being gay or effeminate was not up for discussion.
“In church, we were taught its ‘Adam and Eve, and not Adam and Steve’,” Robinson added. But as a little girl, Robinson said, she asked her grandmother, “If God made Adam and Eve, who made Steve?” The question, she recalled, prompted her grandmother to respond, “Girl, God made Steve, too.”
While homophobia may be a problem within the black community, the LGBT community isn’t a safe haven from discrimination. Robinson said that she came face to face with racism within the LGBT community, and has felt ostracized in lesbian bars because of her skin color.
“Black people still face a residue of slavery as a community; there is a fear if you are anything other than what is normal, then you are going to be hurt in some way,” Robinson said. “You’re not safe. Its not safe to be anything out of the box.”
Robinson was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, while she was completing her practicum in social work at the University of Texas. Since then, being HIV-positive has been a large part of her life — but, she stressed, “not the totality of it.”
Robinson said being diagnosed with HIV forced her to make a decision: “I could either be courageous, or I could wallow in my diagnosis.” She chose to be courageous.
Robinson said doctors told her she had only about three years to live. She decided to spend that time doing her best to prepare her daughters then ages 3 and 2, for a future without her.
“I wanted to plant seeds so my daughters could remember me,” Robinson said, adding that it was information that saved her from “freaking out” about her diagnosis.
She decided, she said, to use that information — “the science behind HIV” — to help herself and the other women who soon started to come to her for information. And in 1999, Robinson started the “Kitchen Table” group where women could educate themselves about HIV.
That led to officials with Dallas’ Resource Center asking Robinson to be part of the center’s treatment education team, helping those with HIV learn about treatment options and medications.
Robinson’s research on HIV has since become internationally known, and has even been translated into Russian.
Robinson said she once had the chance to participate in research on a vaccine for HIV, and she does believe a vaccine will be developed someday.
She said she also firmly believes that “individuals with HIV can halt their disease from spreading.”
Other than being a mother, Robinson said her most important role in life is being the partner of her wife, Angela White. The two first met at Cathedral of Hope and have been together for 14 years. Robinson said her family welcomed White — a volunteer at the National MS Society where she heads up a support group for African-Americans — with open arms. White volunteers on the Advisory Council for the Dallas Area Agency on Aging.
In 2004, Robinson accepted God’s call to the ministry and found a home at the Living Faith Covenant Church, which practices “relational Christianity.”
Through her work at Living Faith, Robinson said she was introduced to the Human Rights Campaign. Now she serves on HRC’s DFW steering committee for religion and faith.
Robinson said her work with HRC has shown her the parallels in the black civil rights movement and the LGBT civil rights movements. Both, she said, are about people who are in “a struggle to be who they are.” And, she added, it is an opportunity for other LGBT people to realize “it takes everybody … [being] inclusive, and we still struggle in our community with sexism and racism.”
As someone who has been active in the LGBT civil rights movement for years, Robinson offered this advice for young LGBTs: “Give yourself permission to let go of any relationship that’s not feeding you in a positive way, even if its your parents or sibling. [Realize] that understanding one’s self is a personal work, and it will not happen if you are waiting on permission from other people to make it happen for you.
“It is lonely,” she continued. “But it is also filled with so much joy as an individual. … Learn the value of work and find a way to give back and honor those who have died for what we have accomplished in our community.”
So what is next for Robinson? Apart from being a mother, a wife, an activist and a community leader, she is now starting a jewelry business — Robinson Albert Jewels — in addition to her greeting card business. She also works with the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, does consulting work, and strives to “figure out what is the next stage of work in HIV.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 20, 2015.