There’s always a mind to change and a heart to hold for HIV educator, activist, and organizer Chandi Moore. Before co-starring in Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show I Am Cait and winning the adoration of fans around the world, Moore was already making a difference in the lives of young people.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Moore knew early that she was called to be of service for her community. That destiny was fulfilled soon after Moore attended beauty school and began working as a makeup artist at The Beverly Center when her mentor, trans advocate Valerie Spencer, told her about a non-profit agency looking for health educators.
“I went into that interview,” says Moore. “They asked me, ‘What are the five fluids to contract HIV?’ And I didn’t even know.”
Despite that, she ended up landing the job (and learned the answers to that and many other HIV questions) which later inspired Moore to co-create Trans Girls in Action Divas (Trans GIA Divas), which won Trans Pride L.A.’s 2011 Community Empowerment Award. That’s when she knew “whatever I was doing, I was on the right path.”
Today, Moore works as a health educator for L.A.’s Children’s Hospital, in the Center for Transyouth Health and Development, but her own journey of self-discovery wasn’t easy. Although she didn’t have a name for what she felt, she knew she was trans from an early age. After friends took her to drag shows Chandi saw a way to express herself: She quickly became a performer herself, and recalls, “I didn’t like to be out of drag.”
“It was like, well what are you going to do with yourself?” she remembers feeling at the time. “If you’re choosing to take on that term that we had back then, which was ‘transsexual,’ how are you going to live your life that way?”
Moore says it took time for her to fully embrace and appreciate her truth — and it was even harder sharing it with her family.
“I chose not to explain it to my family,” she explains. “I just kind of disappeared for a while until I had it all figured out for myself. And then I told my family about it, and it ended up not going over so well initially, but it came together through the years.”
The HIV educator has been on PrEP for about six months, and says she feels a responsibility to tell her story so that others can learn about the prevention tools that are available.
“When I realized there weren’t a lot of trans women on PrEP, I thought that maybe I should get on PrEP and be an example. Something is out there for us that can prevent us from contracting HIV. When [trans women] are 49 times more likely to contract it, why not be on something to not be a statistic?” she asks, referencing an international study by the World Health Organization that said that transgender women are 49 times more likely than cisgender women to become HIV-positive. Similar studies concluded that 56 percent of black transgender women were already living with HIV.
Today, Moore is participating in a long-acting PrEP injectable study, led by Dr. Raphael J. Landovitz, associate director of the UCLA Center for Clinical AIDS Research and Education. Researchers hope offering HIV prevention in one shot given every eight weeks will prompt people to adopt PrEP who were put off by the idea of taking a daily pill. Still, she advocates for the pill, which is the only approved HIV-prevention treatment available right now.
Moore is particularly adamant about sharing HIV information with youth, who she fears can be “so lackadaisical when it comes to anything around STIs and HIV,” says, mimicking a casual attitude of some kids she knows. “Oh, well. I’ll just have to take a pill, and it’s not the end of the world. They think of everything as being so easy to fix, and what I tell them is, ‘You know, it’s life-changing when you contract HIV.’”
While some young people are ambivalent about getting HIV, Moore says, others have bought into stigmatizing ideas about the virus. Moore recalls speaking with a 21-year-old boy a few weeks ago who thought he could contract HIV from kissing.
“In 2018, we still have young people thinking they can contract HIV from kissing. That lets me know we have a whole lot more work to do.”
A very good place to start, Moore suggests, is not with the kids themselves, but with the adults in their lives.
“The young people, they get everything around gender and sexual orientation,” she insists. “They get it. It’s the older people who can’t embrace the fact that these things have become public. That there is such a thing as trans, and what that looks like. It’s a big deal for me because in African-American families, we just don’t get that love, initially, when we come out as trans. Being able to get more African-Americans on board with being able to see these things and have a better understanding is my goal.”
For someone like Moore, that’s an easy task. She is well aware of the influence she has on young trans folks.
“When young people come in and hug me, and hug me so tight that it makes me feel like they don’t want to let go… they don’t have to say one word. I know. I can look in their eyes and know that the things they learned from me or the things that we’ve been able to share in our conversations have touched them in some way.”