Tiger talks about HIV

by Erik Tanouye | 11/17/95 6:00am

Lisa Tiger, a Native American educator and women's activist, said in a speech Wednesday that building self-esteem and avoiding the perils of alcohol are essential to the fight against AIDS.

"Self-esteem is a fragile thing," said Tiger to an audience of about 55 people in 105 Dartmouth Hall. "It's something that can be damaged easily."

The speech, titled "Courageous Women," was part of a two-term series run by the Women's Resource Center called "What Is Feminism?"

"Self-esteem is a very big problem," Tiger said, "especially in Indian communities."

Tiger, who is HIV-positive, said many teenagers have sex when they are young because of low self-esteem and said unprotected teenage sex is a major cause of the spread of AIDS.

"If young women were having sex because they wanted to, I'd say, 'Go for it, just be safe,' " Tiger said. The problem is that many young girls are pressured into having sex, Tiger said.

"People are having sex way too young these days," Tiger said. "Today it troubles me that grade-school kids are thinking about sex."

In eighth grade, Tiger said she was the arm-wrestling champion of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. She described defeating the entire football team of her school at arm-wrestling.

"I was definitely not thinking about having sex with these boys I was beating in arm-wrestling," Tiger said.

Tiger urges adolescents not to have sex until they are ready. She said she was celibate throughout high school, much to her boyfriend's consternation.

"I bet him a steak dinner -- he still owes me a steak dinner -- that I would graduate as a virgin," Tiger said. And though he currently lives on her property, Tiger said, "I've never had sex with him."

"Even after I tested HIV-positive," Tiger said, "he went up to my mom and asked her, 'Does this mean I won't get to have sex with Lisa? I've always wanted to have sex with her.'"

Tiger also said alcohol is a major cause of unprotected sex and the spread of AIDS.

"In just the three years after I [started drinking], I had no self-esteem, no self confidence," said Tiger, who said she did not drink in high school.

Tiger said she first had sex while drunk, which eventually led her to stop drinking. "Even after two years of being sober, I didn't have the same self-esteem that I did in high school," she said.

Tiger said she learned she was HIV-positive in 1992. She had herself tested after discovering her boyfriend had an affair with another man while she was still seeing him.

"He knew the entire time that we were together that he was HIV-positive," Tiger said.

Tiger was initially unsure of her options when she found out she was HIV-positive.

"What I was thinking at the time was, 'What am I going to do now?' " she said.

Tiger began lecturing about AIDS to groups in the Cherokee nation, who she said were "delighted that [she] was willing to talk about it." She then earned Red Cross certification as an AIDS educator.

"I hope somebody can learn from my mistakes," Tiger said. "It's always so much nicer learning from someone else's mistakes."

Tiger's father, Jerome Tiger, was a well known Native American artist who died when Lisa was still very young. She and her family now run an art studio.

In addition, Tiger is working on a Native American exercise video, which has sparked interest with executives at Nike.