By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Toni B. was dressed like a Raggedy Ann doll with bows in her hair and rouge on her cheeks — but there was nothing cute about her message.
Undeterred by the wind and the rain, she stood in front of the Old Navy on 125th Street with a sign around her neck that read: ''I'm not a doll! Don't play with my life!" and implored women to get tested for HIV/AIDS.
"We are nothing to be played with. Women are human beings and should be treated with dignity and respect," said Toni, a peer health educator. "But it's up to women to do that for themselves by knowing their status."
Sponsored by the Gay Men's Health Crisis as part of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the scene was repeated at several locations around the city, including in Union Square, Herald Square and Times Square.
"We are trying to get as many women tested for HIV today as possible because women sometimes don't know how to negotiate safe sex," said Glynis Simmons, 54, the assistant director for women's care prevention for Gay Men's Health Crisis.
In New York City one in three people with HIV is female, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In the African-American and Latino communities, the HIV epidemic is engulfing women. Approximately 90 percent of women living with HIV are black or Latino and black and Latino teen-aged girls account for 94 percent of new infections in their age group.
"The stigma has died down a little bit but this is something people still don't want to talk about," said Jaszi Alejandro, 24, a community health specialist who has been HIV positive for five years. "Some people's reaction when you ask them to take an HIV test is: 'What are you trying to say about me.' But we are trying to show people that HIV does not have a face."
And that's one of the reasons that Katrina Spencer, a 30-year-old office assitant stopped to get tested.
"This is not anything to be ashamed of. HIV and AIDS is higher in the African-American community so its good to get tested if you are sexually active," said Spencer. "If you're not getting tested you are either ashamed or not worried about your health."