April 10, 2019

The Blood Sisters of San Diego

It takes a village to save the people you love

Spurred on by the virulent response to the AIDS Crisis— people didn’t want to touch, or even be in the same room as anyone who had HIV—the Women’s Caucus of the San Diego Democratic Club banded together to take action, forming the Blood Sisters.

Within two years, more than half of the Democratic Club’s male leadership had succumbed to the disease. Former Blood Sister Gloria Johnson, the first county social worker assigned to AIDS cases, recalled losing two or three men a week to the disease. “We had nothing medically to help people then so what we dealt with was death on a regular basis.” Increasingly, lesbians filled the void, quietly stepping in as caregivers and leaders, while working to raise money to combat the epidemic.

Although their community was in desperate need of it, gay men were prohibited from donating blood. Lesbians were under no such restrictions. Wendy Sue Biegeleisen, Nicolette Ibarra, and Barbara Vick helped pull together The Blood Sisters first blood drive on July 16, 1983, at the San Diego Blood Bank on Upas Street in Hillcrest. Though Vick didn’t expect much of a response, close to 200 women showed up, resulting in at least 130 donations.

“Women came out of the woodwork; women that didn’t want to have anything to do with men—even gay men,” fellow Blood Sister Peggy Heathers recalled. “It was an incredible experience to see the caring and the support.”

The Blood Sisters organized regular blood drives, establishing an account to which people could apply when in need of blood. After about four years—by most accounts, the time it took President Reagan to first use the term “AIDS” in public—the Blood Sisters gradually disbanded.

All contributions and bequests are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by federal and state law. The Women’s Museum of California is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable corporation. Tax ID is 95-3893212.

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