Living with HIV in Edmonton; A local Champion – Deborah Norris

Ribbon Rouge 2015 in now less than a month away!  This year we are celebrating the theme of Queen!  Women who inspire and empower others around them.  Rule breakers and name takers, vilified by some but visionaries to others, these women embody the passion, freedom and unbreakable spirit of their communities and pay it forward a thousand times over.

We have a special treat for today, a profile and bio of Deborah Norris.  Deborah is a woman who has been living with HIV for over two decades, a woman who had to endure the raising two children as a single mother and a woman who had to get both children testes for HIV infection.  She has overcome incredible odds and has not only survived but thrived in what she does – being an outspoken activist for women living with HIV.

We had the honor of bringing you her story, the story of rose up and became a focal point for HIV awareness here in Edmonton as well as nationally and even internationally.  Her powerful story is bound to captivate and engage you and hopefully serves to inspire you to help us take action through the Ribbon Rouge Gala in support of HIV awareness and destigmatization.

Here is the story of Deborah Norris, champion of HIV awareness, education and support.

I’m Deborah Norris, a woman who has been living with HIV since 1991. I was diagnosed after I went for a life insurance test because I was raising my two children as a single Mom and decided I needed life insurance. My GP has told me she would not have tested me for HIV if I started to show symptoms because she had already tested me for HIV when I was pregnant with my son, the year prior, and that test was negative. It was a huge shock. I thought I was in a monogamous relationship. I had no idea my partner was having sex with other women. He did not know he had HIV. He died because of ignorance. We did not know about HIV. We did not know we were at risk.


My children had to be tested because I was pregnant with one and breastfed both. It was the longest two weeks of my life, waiting for their test results. Thankfully, they both tested negative. I was extremely depressed and angry. The years after I was diagnosed were the hardest time of my life. I was near death many, many times, there were no medications to treat HIV disease, the people I met through HIV Edmonton (then called the AIDS Network of Edmonton) and Living Positive were all dying around me. I progressed to an AIDS diagnosis in 1994. I lived in spite of everything. I tried to have a positive attitude and was surrounded by supportive people. My sole goal was to live to see my children grow up. Not only did I do that but they have graduated from high school, my daughter has graduated from university, my son has almost completed university and they are both happy, successful, amazing human beings.


The powerful women role models I’ve had are other women living with HIV. There were not very many here in Edmonton when I was diagnosed, but over the years because of the activism I have been a part of nationally and internationally, I’ve been privileged to meet many powerful women living with HIV. These Queens of HIV taught me what it means to be strong and powerful and that my voice matters.


I received a Community leadership award from HIV Edmonton in 1994 for co-founding the Alberta Society for Positive Women. I sat on the Advisory Committee on AIDS to the Alberta Minister of Health for three years as a community representative. In 1992, I was a founding member of the peer support programme of Living Positive, the Edmonton Persons Living With HIV Society, and continue to provide peer support to other women living with HIV to this day. I am an activist and advocate for women living with HIV, locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. I was part of an activist group in Alberta in 1995 that wrote a lobby paper and successfully lobbied the Alberta government to provide the life saving protease inhibitors that resulted in people living with HIV to be able to live healthy lives. As a peer support person, I advocate for women living with HIV to get the social supports they need to live healthy lives.


What do I say to people who do not believe HIV is real? I’ve lived with HIV for almost 25 years, been diagnosed with AIDS, nearly died many times because of the devastating immune system depleting effects of this virus. I have seen my friends die around me because of this virus. If you do not know that this virus exists, read the science, look at the facts, look at an electron microscope image of the virus in my body, look into the eyes of someone dying because of ignorant denial. I just spent a year providing support to women and children living with HIV disease in Honduras. Women and children are dying unnecessarily there because of this kind of ignorance.


Women’s rights are a huge part of HIV education and support. Women still do not believe they have the right to not be abused. They still believe they do not have the right to insist on a condom. They still do not believe they have a right to say “No!” Women’s rights and women believing they can claim these rights is the only way we will ever halt this disease for women and children.

We are truly delighted to be sharing her story with you.  And we are even more excited to have her story told at the Ribbon Rouge 2015 Gala!  Be sure to catch more of her story there on Nov. 28th, 2015 at Ribbon Rouge in Edmonton!


And don’t forget to buy tickets for Ribbon Rouge 2015!  Tickets can be purchased online here.

Ribbon Rouge #8

When: November 28, 2015 Doors open at 6pm; Show at 7pm

Where: ATB Financial Arts Barns