Lessons from a Lady
AIDS advocate & health educator Quintara Lane learns as much as she teaches
Text & Photos by Sean Black
Though Elizabeth Glaser was slowly piercing the veil of the lethargic Reagan Administration, representing a constituency-in-need beyond gay men, thousands of children fell through the cracks of medical intervention, like Quintara Lane. Lady Queen Lane, as she prefers to be called, is one of the remaining survivors of the 1980s’ instances of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Born in 1986, a time when infants delivered with this virus rarely saw a second birthday, the twenty-four year-old advocate and health educator is living a purposeful and active life. In a refreshingly hopeful conversation this gentle woman diverts our attention to several remarkable lessons for living gracefully with HIV.
Show compassion. Sitting on her bed in a high-rise apartment overlooking Liberty City, a gritty North Miami suburb, Quintara Lane clings to a fluffy machine-washed toy given to her by her late mother nearly twenty years ago. “I never gave it a name,” referring to the stuffed alligator in her tender grip as she reminisces the defeated woman who left this child of God behind. After receiving catastrophic news of her baby girl’s infection with HIV, Quintara’s mother surrendered her children to the care of their grandmother. With only kindness in her voice however, Quintara sweetly remembers running up a flight of stairs to give her ailing mother a passing monthly hug. “In and out. I only got to see her after visits from the health clinic and I was never allowed to spend the night.”
Command respect. “It’s ok to wait and NOT have sex” tweets [email protected], but it’s a really difficult conversation to have especially for youngsters in their sexual prime. Quintara recalls a first-date gone horribly bad when pressured by an eager young pursuer. Trying to pacify his aggressive advances she suggested that they talk first. “We don’t know what the other has,” she said, referring to STDs in the hopes of derailing the direction of the brewing conversation. Prying further her suitor ignorantly insisted that both are fine. “Unfortunately I am not.” Quintara bravely recalls as she painfully revealed her status. “He stopped the car and pulled out a gun from underneath his seat. He ordered me out of his car.”
Be uniquely human. “My nieces and nephews are my world,” lovingly states the young woman who emanates a maternal warmth. She is the middle child of three daughters and the only one to be infected with HIV. “My older sister was born before my mother was infected and my younger sister received medical treatment early enough for her to seroconvert.” A bittersweet discovery spared her younger sister by only ten months a similar plight. Her grandmother recalls noticing that the nearly one-year-old Quintara at the time had distinctly worrisome swollen glands shortly after her baby sister was born. “The doctors said it was baby fat and I knew that they were wrong,” her grandmother says. Upon her grandmother’s nagging insistence the medical team probed further and discovered the sad truth for Quintara. With this news, however, swift action was taken which circumvented her baby sister’s infection by providing speedy treatments.
Cherish your health. “Take care of yourself and don’t forget to take your medicine.” These were the parting words of Quintara’s grandmother as we left her home after an afternoon visit during our interview. “I remember my grandmother crushing a giant pill I used to have to take. She would be in the kitchen just hammering and hammering to chop up my medication.” Along with the then-liquid AZT, medication hadn’t yet been developed or tested by the FDA for children. Lady Queen keeps a drawer full of discarded pill bottles and needle tubes as keepsakes. “It has a sentimental value and it reminds me to keep on taking my medication so I can look as good as I do now and so that I can stay as healthy as possible. I want to live a long life, and one day have my own kids and share with them the things that their mother had to go through.”
Extend a little kindness. “My most shameful memories were having black spots, rashes, and thin hair. I also had a really bad case of shingles which left scars on my stomach.” Because she knows what it feels like to be self-conscious of her looks, Lady Queen reaches out to others judged as outcasts based on their physical appearances. “I have friends from childhood that look different; one without any arms and another with swollen glands. It doesn’t frighten me—these biological differences. We all need friends.” Quintara recently returned to college to pursue a career in sign language communication, inspired by wanting to learn to converse with a young man from her church who is deaf.
No time for pity. “Don’t!” hushes Quintara, detecting the sympathy in my voice. “I have a friend too that gets sad for me and I can’t have that in my life.” She continues, “I do not want people feeling sorry for me, because there will one day be a cure for AIDS.” In a newspaper article pasted to the bedroom wall where she grew up, Quintara points to herself at nearly thirteen years of age. She was able to perform with her middle school choir at Carnegie Hall in New York City and she was grateful for the experience. “I used to love to sing but because I didn’t take my medicine for two years I came down with the opportunistic infection known as pneumocystis carinii pneumonia [PCP], which later on affected the quality of my singing voice.”
Take responsibility. Landing in the hospital again with pneumonia, Quintara had a better excuse than most for missing a few days of school. As I began to curse her teacher who dropped her last semester from a grammar course, she quickly corrects me, “No, she gave me a fair chance; it was my fault. Next semester I will try again and get it right.”
Keep your priorities in check. Lady Queen Lane admits that she needs to toughen-up because she feels that she is sometimes taken for granted. In her own defense however she does concede that she is her number-one priority. “I come first, then my family and then my faith.”
Quintara has recently brought home two medals from the first annual AIDS Olympics held this past March in Washington, D.C. She babysits for family and friends, studies hard, and is learning the craft of becoming a professional deejay. But most importantly Lady Queen Lane provides community outreach to those at risk, whether in her own hometown or in our nation’s capital. Quintara Lane embodies each of these lessons; these are her rules to live by.
Sean Black is a writer and photographer based in Florida. He may be contacted by e-mail via his Web site: www.seangblack.com.
Photos © Sean Black. All rights reserved.