Herpes Activists Networking to Dismantle Stigma (HANDS) is a broad-based network of professional organizations and individual activists who share a commitment to advancing awareness, education, and acceptance of herpes in alignment with our membership overview, goals, and values. As is true with all advocacy, we are more impactful as a cohesive unit, always greater than the sum of our parts.
HANDS is an autonomous network comprised of individual members and member organizations, and HANDS membership does not imply endorsement of member’s work, policies, initiatives, messages, or services.
- Aaron Sager
- Adrienne Rommel
- Alexandra Harbushka
- Ana Pelaez
- Ashley Tomes
- Be Guerra
- Belize Spivey
- Carlee Murrell
- Christine Seyk
- Clarice Connolly
- Courtney Brame – SC*
- Devin Elise Wilson
- Dr. Kelly Martin Schuh – SC*
- Emily Depasse
- Erin Devost
- Heather Haskins
- Jenelle Marie Pierce
- Johana Dominguez
- KellyAnne Herman – SC*
- Kiera Thomas
- Laureen HD
- Rae Higgins
- Rukiat Ashawe
- Soraia Francisco
- Stephi Batliner
- Sue Holden
- Pink Tent
- The Herpes Hub
- The STD Project
*SC indicates Steering Committee members.
Please see below to find our members on social media and to learn more about our individual activists and member organizations!
Aaron Sager (he/him/his)
Aaron was born in Brisbane, Australia on 19th November 1987. From an early age, he was always asking questions and a very curious boy. He completed a Bachelor of Psychology and a Bachelor of Social Science double-degree in 2009 but threw-in a short stint of the “corporate life” to become a Personal Trainer and Health Coach in which he successfully ran his business “SagerTrain” for 6 years.
After a 6-year relationship broke-down at the age of 27, he found himself single for the first real time in his adulthood. It is difficult to tell when or who he contracted herpes from, but it was within 3-6 months of being single. For 2 years it destroyed him. He went to alcohol to numb himself from the deep feeling of self-hatred and disgust he experienced of himself.
Then, at the age of 29, he went through a process of self-development and spiritual awakening. This led him out of the pit of despair that had become his life, and he finally started moving forward. Aaron’s desire is to help others who are needlessly suffering in silence with herpes, and to completely destigmatize herpes by 2025.
Adrienne Rommel (she/her/hers)
Adrienne Rommel (AKA The Yoni Nutritionist) is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, Yoga Teacher, and Mindfulness Coach from Toronto, Canada, and has a passion for women’s sexual health and wellness.
As a 37-year-old woman, she struggled with her own Yoni & sexual health issues since she was a teenager. For her, it was the lack of sexual education, increased antibiotic use as a child, long-term birth control pill use, lack of awareness about STIs, bad diet, high-stress lifestyle, and unresolved emotional trauma, which all contributed to her own personal Yoni health issues.
She has been living with genital herpes for 16 years and has learned how to naturally suppress recurring outbreaks through nutrition, holistic wellness, and healing practices. She has experienced first-hand that it WORKS. She is passionate about educating others and ending the stigma about STIs by sharing her experience living with herpes.
With Adrienne’s knowledge, skills, and experience as a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, she wants to help women who are struggling with their own personal Yoni and sexual health issues to heal their bodies and their Yonis from the inside out, just like she did! Find her on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.
Alexandra Harbushka (she/her/hers)
Alexandra Harbushka is the creator of LifeWithHerpes.com, and she is on a mission to educate, entertain and connect the under-served and often ostracized community of people living with herpes. She is the host of two top ranking podcasts on iTunes, Sex, Money and Food and Life With Herpes.
Alexandra is an entrepreneur, a speaker, and is breaking the stigma when it comes to herpes.
Before branching out on her own, Alexandra was in corporate America for over a decade within the realm of real estate and mortgage. It was when she was the marketing director for the top mortgage company in the US that she learned the ins and outs of marketing, promotion, and just plain old hard work. Alexandra has created an online community for people living with herpes where she provides support, security, and educational materials.
Find Alexandra on Twitter.
Ana Pelaez, AMPM Coach (she/her/hers)
Ana was born in Barranquilla, Colombia as Ana Maria Pelaez Molano (AMPM) and migrated to Florida with her family when she was 13 years old. As an only child, she loved making new friends, and her passion was to learn about people and human behavior. That fascination for human nature influenced her to get a BA in Psychology at Florida International University. The entrepreneurial background of both her parents inspired her to run her own business and contribute to others in a non-conventional way.
A few years back, after ending a long relationship, Ana found herself dating, which resulted in a herpes diagnosis. She realized that she was not the only one confronting the herpes stigma, depression, and all those feelings that were not helping her move forward. At that point, the seed of AMPM Coach started to grow.
Ana believes in incorporating your whole being into the coaching process: mind, body, and spirit. She coaches her clients to release shame, create self-fulfillment, and provides them with tools to grow when an obstacle arises.
Ashley Tomes (she/her/hers)
Ashley started her journey after finding herself newly diagnosed with herpes while living in a new city. With no connections, and after searching on many online platforms, she wasn’t able to find any local support. It made her realize the full impact of the stigma. Feeling like she was the right person to make a difference, she took her passion for helping people by sharing her story. Starting off small, writing blog posts in women’s groups online, and after getting feedback from a handful of women who also felt alone, Ashley knew this was her new journey.
The more open she was about having herpes, the more she was able to network. Eventually, Ashley was invited to join secret groups on Facebook. It was certainly nice to connect with locals, but she was not able to shake the feeling of loneliness. She knew she needed to do more. That’s when Ashley started a public Instagram and a public Facebook page – giving newly diagnosed people a chance to find her.
Having a more positive mindset is what helped her get through the tough times after her diagnosis and through life in general. Now she uses her photography and uplifting words to reach other people. However, this is just the beginning of her journey. She has goals of coaching other people and helping them look at life in a more positive way.
Be Guerra (she/her/hers)
As the founder of Tinder Lotus, Be Guerra wants to empower minority women who have had traumatic experiences around sex to embrace their sexuality (contracting STIs, abortion, sexual assault, etc.) while helping them remember that no matter what has happened to them, they are Sex Goddesses deserving of and entitled to pleasure.
Being Latina, along with a religious upbringing, the topic of sex was taboo and never talked about in Be’s home. Her social conditioning around STIs was that it only happened to ‘certain types of people’ and that it would never happen to her because she wasn’t that ‘type of person.’ Be contracted herpes when she was 18 years old, in 2006, from someone that she was dating who knew but did not disclose to her that he had it. At that time, she was also grieving the loss of a loved one, so herpes was the last thing on her mind, but the repression of it left her angry and living in shame for years – affecting her self-image and self-worth, not only as a sexual being, but as a human being.
Be’s vision for Tinder Lotus, along with the realization of her social conditioning and the truth about who she is is what helped her to let go of the anger and shame of living with herpes and create the passion that she has to help other women who have had traumatic experiences around sex.
Belize Spivey (she/her/hers)
Belize Spivey is known as the STD Life Coach. She launched Overcoming the Stigma on August 23, 2015 through a public disclosure on social media.
Belize contracted genital herpes 9 years ago during her sophomore year in college. She struggled with overcoming the stigma for a year and looked for an online support group that could help her accept her status. In the midst of her acceptance process, she supported other members and found a passion in assisting others overcoming the stigma of herpes.
Overcoming the Stigma helps African American women overcome the stigma of herpes through YouTube videos, life coaching sessions, a private support group, and biweekly video support group sessions.
Carlee Murrell (she/her/hers)
Carlee was diagnosed with HSV2 when she was 17 years old. At first thought, it seemed like the end of the world, but over the last ten years herpes has taught her so much about herself. In a way, she’s thankful for it.
She has become more in tune with her body. Her romantic relationships are stronger. She’s studied up on nutrition, holistic healing, and stress relieving practices.
Now, Carlee works in Health & Wellness as a Personal Trainer. Keeping herself and her clients healthy and de-stressed is #1. Find Carlee on Instagram.
Christine Seyk (she/her/hers)
Christine Seyk is just a girl who runs half-marathons for herpes awareness, fondly referred to as Runner Girl. Christine was diagnosed with HSV2 over 20 years ago and HPV over 6 years ago.
Christine is a mother of a United States Marine, holds a masters degree in business, and works in the tech industry as a database administrator. She travels frequently to participate in races, attends private social events with people who have herpes, and donates her time at support group meetings.
In her free time, Christine’s training for the next race, donating time in virtual support groups, or working on her autobiography.
Clarice Connolly (she/her/hers)
In many ways, being diagnosed with herpes has been one of life’s biggest gifts and a catalyst for Clarice Connolly discovering her true self. Had it not brought her to, in her words, “rock bottom,” she might have been left living others’ dreams for her life instead of daring to define her own. But thanks to her experience in becoming a Life Coach, she was able to find what having HSV2 gave her.
Clarice believes that the courage it took to share her status with both those she loved and complete strangers allowed for closer and more intimate connections with the people she told. It broke the belief that this sort of intimacy was only available with loved ones or significant others. With each person she told, the weight of her diagnosis was reduced, and the shame that it held became lighter and lighter.
Now she shares her story without shame in hopes of creating deeper connections by living a transparent life. She believes that it invites others to openly share themselves. Finding her voice was the best thing she did. Allowing her to, openly and without regret, share herself with others, and to cultivate the power that comes from transparency, inclusion, and authenticity. Her mission is to help those who are struggling in life to feel supported and seen more for who they are than for their diagnosis.
Clarice has her own podcast about topics she wishes more people were talking about. These topics include emotional intelligence, herpes, boundary setting, addressing addiction, confrontation, overcoming labels, and much, much more. Having recently moved to Portland, she plans to build a herpes support group. Without the support of the people who helped her through her first year with herpes, Clarice said – and this can’t be emphasized enough – she doesn’t know where she would be now. Find Clarice on Facebook and Instagram.
Courtney Brame (he/him/his) – SC*
Courtney Brame hosts the podcast, Something Positive for Positive People, which features the unique experiences of individuals living with and affected by STIs. Through his own experiences and after his diagnosis of genital herpes 6 years ago, Courtney learned that ‘life isn’t about what happens TO you, it’s about what happens THROUGH you.’
Courtney wanted to create a space for people living with and affected by an STI to jump-start their own consciousness of choice in their life situation. After hearing repeatedly that people diagnosed with herpes wanted to kill themselves, he began to seek out people living normal lives with herpes. Courtney’s mission was to share their stories through Something Positive for Positive People to show that this is a normal, manageable condition.
Nine months later, it has evolved into much more than Courtney could have ever imagined. Something Positive for Positive People is a space of understanding for those looking to learn about experiences from people living with and affected by STIs. The podcast contains experiences including but not limited to understanding how to move forward.
Devin Elise Wilson (she/her/hers)
Devin Elise Wilson is the Founder of Love Profound (LP), a resource for people with herpes who are looking for peace, freedom, and community. LP consists of coaching and meetup groups, and was born out of a desire to create a space where people could talk openly about their experiences and be met with profound love, compassion, and understanding.
Devin has a Bachelor’s in Communication from the University of Southern California, and a Master’s in Arts Administration from Columbia University. She is dedicated to shattering the stigma and showing people how strong and resilient they really are.
Stay courageous XO.
Dr. Kelly Martin Schuh, D.C. (she/her/hers) – SC*
Dr. Kelly Martin Schuh, D.C., is an Amazon bestselling author, speaker, and transformational coach for women. Early in her adult life, Dr. Kelly’s life was forever changed when she contracted the highly stigmatized infection, herpes. Determined to help women negotiate their lives while living with herpes, she openly shared her story in her 2013 release of Live, Love and Thrive with Herpes, a bestseller on Amazon. As the founder of the virtual community Pink Tent™ (www.PinkTent.com), which is devoted to ‘Women Supporting Women with Herpes,’ Dr. Kelly is sparking ‘Scarlet Letter’ type conversations that extend far beyond the topic of herpes.
Inspired by her story, women from around the world are gathering to share their deepest, darkest secrets in order to experience the illumination of their personal truth and the gift of sacred self-love, peace, and passion for life.
Dr. Kelly volunteers as the Educational Outreach director for the nonprofit, Colorado H Friends. She earned a doctorate from Parker University in Dallas, TX, and holds a BA in Psychology from the University of Colorado. When she is not coaching or teaching, she is living the ‘good life’ in Boulder, CO, with her husband and daughter.
Emily Depasse (she/her/hers)
Emily Depasse is a Philadelphia-based writer and aspiring sexologist. She received her BA in Gender and Sexuality Studies in 2015 and is currently working toward her MSW and MEd in Human Sexuality Studies.
Emily was diagnosed with HSV2, commonly known as genital herpes, in July 2015 and began sharing her story publicly in December 2015. Emily’s writing investigates self-intimacy, relationships, and sexual wellness while navigating life with genital herpes.
Emily’s words can be found on her personal blog, HealthCentral, and PhillyCurrent Magazine.
Erin Devost (she/her/hers)
Erin Devost is the host of Herp A Derp podcast: empowering the community and breaking the stigma on herpes. The mission of Herp A Derp podcast is to empower those affected by herpes and STIs, to rebuild confidence and inspire healthy choices, and to simply feel comfortable with oneself.
The podcast shares Erin and her guests’ personal experiences, trending news stories on sexual health, and Herp A Derp memes to break the stigma. The show also interviews those affected by herpes, ally perspectives, and community health activists who are already working to fight the stigma (such as HANDS members).
Upon her herpes diagnosis, Erin was inspired to find supportive resources and create a safe space in her community. As a proud member of HANDS, Erin is able to fulfill her inspiration and one of her ultimate goals in life: to make a difference by building confidence.
Heather Haskins (she/her/hers)
Heather Haskins is the Founder of the HSV in the City support group and website. She is also a Navy veteran from Michigan who accidentally moved to DC. She must have loved it, because 5 years later, she is still there.
Heather found out she had HSV2 in April of 2015. She looked for herpes support groups in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area and was unable to find them. Eventually, she found herpes advocates on Instagram in 2017 and through Instagram, a support group. After meeting quite a few people from the DMV in this group and with some encouragement from other herpes advocates, she started HSV in the City.
HSV in the City is an inclusive support group hosting both female-identifying and mixed gender groups. Their goal is to provide a safe space for all to explore and heal without stigma.
Find Heather and the HSV in the City support group on Instagram!
Johana Dominguez (she/her/hers)
Johana Dominguez is the founder of Johana Dominguez Coaching where she helps men and women with herpes live their best life, without letting their diagnosis get in the way, by overcoming the limiting beliefs they have associated with the virus.
Her personal experience with herpes, as well as her journey to self-acceptance led her to become a life coach to help those struggling just like she was.
Johana’s mission is to not only to help people thrive with herpes but also help stop the stigma linked to it.
KellyAnne Herman (she/her/hers) – SC*
KellyAnne Herman started her journey to self-compassion when the struggle to accept her HSV2 diagnosis became unbearable. Using life coaching skills she developed in a leadership program, she confronted self-inflicted judgment and abuse to develop an understanding and love for herself. It was kismet to become part of the HANDS Steering Committee after finally sharing her painful experiences on social media in a way that inspires a positive outlook on life after diagnosis.
As a Self-Compassion Coach and advocate for smashing stigmas, KellyAnne now harnesses her craft as a healer, teacher, and oracle to serve others on their path to accepting and loving themselves. She has created a Vibrant Community on Patreon for supporting fellow sistxrs and sharing empowering, transformative content.
Additionally, she manages V for Vibrant on Youtube and Instagram where she shares resources for relieving suffering, aligning with your mission, and receiving guidance from spirit. This includes the video series Modern Magic for the Basic Witch – a free online ongoing course for expanding knowledge around new age mysticism – as well as Free Reading Friday, Weekend Webinars, and first access to e-courses, workshops, lectures, and more.
Kiera Thomas (she/her/hers)
Kiera Thomas, K.Tanae, is an indie author with 12+ novels under her belt from Compton, California.
Kiera was diagnosed with HSV2 on October 15, 2011, and she remembers it like it was yesterday. She fought a silent battle with herself, and she rebelled, but she was really hiding and running from herself. As odd as it may seem, Kiera ran TO SEX. She thought it’d end her pain, but she just got hurt more and more. Kiera told a few of her partners about her diagnosis, and she had some horrible reactions. After those times, she was exposed on social media by two friends, and then she hit her breaking point.
In early 2018, Kiera was asked to do an interview about living with herpes for College Daze Media, and that was when she shared her status with the Instagram world. Since then, she has received good and bad reactions, but the best reactions came from people going through the exact same thing. As a result, Kiera is finally healing by helping other people heal, and she feels that she is strong because of the outpouring of love and understanding that she receives.
Laureen HD (she/her/hers)
Laureen HD is a YouTube content creator who takes the shame out of the loaded, misrepresented, and taboo subject of living with an STI.
After contracting herpes herself, Laureen realized that the majority of online resources available to process a diagnosis were either too medical, too dramatic, too dismissive and most importantly, not relatable.
With funny and down to earth videos, Laureen uses her own experiences to tackle typical questions people with herpes battle, such as ‘How to tell someone I like that I have herpes?’, ‘Can dating apps be an option to meet partners?’ or ‘How to get back on my feet if I get rejected for having herpes?’ She also interviews other people who have had challenging sexual health experiences and invites them to share their story with viewers.
Rae Higgins (she/her/hers)
Rae is a registered nurse, sex educator, and yoga instructor living and thriving in Austin, TX. She was diagnosed with HSV2 in 2016 and decided that instead of letting it destroy her, it would EMPOWER her.
Rae created Positive Results, a supportive community for women living with HSV who cultivate acceptance and empowerment through their diagnosis.
Rae’s dream is to help break the STIgma surrounding HSV and other sexually transmitted infections with the help of her wildly strong and incredibly inspiring girl gang!
Visit Rae’s community on Instagram.
Rukiat Ashawe (she/her/hers)
Rukiat is a writer and an advocate for sexual health, feminism, and various social issues she is passionate about.
Early 2018, Rukiat mustered the courage to submit an article titled, ‘I Have Herpes’ to LAPP The Brand for an online writing competition, and she won. The article detailed her experience with herpes when she first contracted it and how she dealt with herpes moving forward. The positive responses and support she received from others motivated her to continue to share her experiences, and it sparked a determination to break the STIgma.
Since then, Rukiat has continued to share her writing, raising awareness on sexual health and connecting with other like-minded people online, and offline, in order to break the STIgma and inform others.
Soraia Francisco (she/they)
Soraia Francisco is a proud queer dog mama and cancer survivor.
Born in Portugal, she migrated to the United States with her parents as a child. Soraia graduated from Rutgers University as a first generation college student and then traveled to multiple U.S. cities as a two-term serving AmeriCorps member. After their last service term, Soraia found a new home in the Pacific Northwest; there they spent four years serving at-risk youth in multiple capacities. She was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer at the age of 28 and underwent treatment in Seattle.
Soraia currently works on the East Coast for a civic engagement non-profit while completing a graduate degree in Human Sexuality Education. Soraia hopes to serve youth, families, and professionals with transformative sexology wherever she calls home next.
Soraia has had HSV1 ever since they were a teenager and is thrilled to engage folx around the destigmatization of herpes and other STIs. Find them on Instagram.
Stephi Batliner (she/her/hers)
Stephi Batliner is a User Experience Designer and an unstoppable power force on the volleyball court who believes in creating positive impact and experiences through human-centred design.
She is passionate about sexual health and wants to transform the negative image of herpes into an accepted conversation topic in our society. She has been living with genital herpes (HSV1) since April 2015 and has used her diagnosis as a starting point for advocacy.
In 2017, Stephi wrote her Master’s dissertation at Kingston University London: “A human-centred concept to tackle the stigma of the Herpes Simplex Virus”. Inspired by stigma research and the personal interviews she created 69 – The Story Collection. 69 – The Story Collection is an online collection of stories told by diverse people living with herpes who want to empower themselves in order to support others.
Sue Holden (she/her/hers)
Nursing is Sue’s life’s work. Apart from a brief departure to obtain a biology degree, Sue’s been nursing since 1987 – for the last decade as a stroke nurse specialist. Recently she completed her Masters degree in Advanced Nursing Practice.
Originally from England, Sue emigrated to New Zealand 12 years ago with her husband. They flourished there, but life always throws curve balls, and they separated briefly a few years ago. She met someone in that time, but he had no idea he had genital herpes (HSV2) – until she had symptoms, that is. She got the news on New Years Eve 2014. It was not a Happy New Year!
Two pivotal factors helped Sue deal with her diagnosis and formed the basis for successfully moving forward with her life: firstly, talking to others in the same boat, and secondly, being open and transparent about her diagnosis. Everyone knows – her family, friends, colleagues, and even her hairdresser! She’s passionate about challenging the stigma and helping others deal with their issues.
Sue believes no one with herpes should feel isolated and in pain. So, she formed a support group (NZ H Friends) and became active across social media. She loves the analogy of being a lighthouse for others alone in the dark, and that’s what she aspires to be – a small beacon in the South Pacific. Keep up with Sue’s work on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
OUR MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS
Pink Tent is a virtual community for YOU! A gathering of mothers, friends, and sisters helping women to live, love, and thrive after a herpes diagnosis.
You don’t have to feel all-alone any more! In this sacred space, you will connect with other women who suffer from herpes. We will empower, educate, and inspire you to fulfill your dreams of love, partnership, and optimal health.
Alone, my story of inspiration can only go so far, but together, we can light up the world. Open your arms, your hearts and the possibilities. Join the conversation at Pink Tent forum for women supporting women with herpes…together we’re better.
The Herpes Hub
Loving Yourself with Herpes.
The mission of The Herpes Hub is to empower men and women living with herpes to love themselves – to strip away the shame associated with a herpes diagnosis, pursue romantic relationships without hesitation, and live their best lives.
Herpes isn’t the end to your love life – it’s the beginning of a journey of self-discovery, forgiveness, honesty, and true intimacy like you’ve never experienced. We’re in this together. You can also find The Herpes Hub on Instagram!
The STD Project
The STD Project was launched in April of 2012 during STD Awareness Month by STD+ Founder, Jenelle Marie Pierce. The STD Project is a multi-award-winning independent website and progressive movement eradicating STD stigma by facilitating and encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations.
Taking steps toward modern-day sexual health and prevention by advocating for conscientious and informed decisions, we post interviews with and the stories of those who have sexually transmitted infections or diseases, as well as a plethora of news and resources related to STIs and STDs.
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