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Woman Gets Tested For AIDS to Quell Rumors

August 5, 1987

HORNELL, N.Y. (AP) _ It made Page One of the local newspaper, and Debra French is hoping the whole town got the message: She doesn’t have AIDS.

Months of rumors that she has the deadly disease prompted her to take a test and get her doctor to verify the results with a letter. The Hornell Evening Tribune wrote a story about her ordeal.

The rumors began in March and became so outrageous, she said, that in June her mother received telephone calls from people offering their condolences because they had heard French had died.

″It got to the point where I wouldn’t even walk my dog until late at night,″ she said. ″People would stop on the street and point at me.″

She finally decided to take the test and, as she suspected, the results were negative. Her doctor wrote the letter, which she carries in her purse.

French said that since the July 14 article, people around this blue-collar town of about 10,000 have been more friendly, but there have been no apologies.

She said she’s not exactly sure why the rumors started, although she said she is known to frequent several of the taverns in town, has gone out with different men and has gay male friends.

″I do things and I don’t try to hide them. I’m a normal, healthy, unattached 28-year-old woman,″ she said.

In April, she was in St. James Hospital in Hornell for what she said was an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, and after that decided to cut down on her drinking and keep a lower profile.

″They thought because I wasn’t out, I was home wasting away from AIDS,″ said French, who was born and raised in Hornell.

Her mother, Betty Monaghan, heard the rumors first. She said when she would meet neighbors and other people on the street or in stores, ″they would physically take a step back.″

The final humiliation for French came when the owner of a local health club urged her to get tested for AIDS to ease the concerns of other club members.

″The rumor went through this town like crazy,″ said Fran Losecco, owner of Snoopy’s, a local bar. ″Each time it got worse; something was added.″

French said she would like to stay in Hornell, but doesn’t know whether she can. ″It’s really just a Peyton Place,″ she said. ″A little Peyton Place.″

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