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On World AIDS Day, Think About What You Can Do - Then Do

Woman holding AIDS awareness red ribbon
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We are stronger when we fight together. With that in mind, let's talk about some ways that all of us can recognize World AIDS Day by harnessing our power.

On World AIDS Day, I am optimistic about the future. I am optimistic because we have an administration led by a president and vice-president who are longtime allies and understand the impact of the HIV epidemic in our country and the world. I am full of hope because there are advocates who are doing amazing and life-changing work from Argentina to Atlanta, from South Africa to South Central, from Lesotho to Louisiana, and from Jakarta to Jacksonville. I am inspired because I believe the science.

People living with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load have been proving U=U for years before the medical community caught up. For the record, people who maintain an undetectable viral load for six consecutive months cannot pass HIV to their partners. That means that no child has to be born with HIV when there is access to ARTs. That also means ensuring equitable access to HIV meds and supportive services, safe and affordable housing and culturally competent healthcare should be a part of every person's HIV regimen. If every person living with HIV gets to, and maintains an undetectable viral load, then no one can get HIV. That is the beginning of the end of the epidemic. Moreover, it means that people live longer and healthier lives.

I usually begin my presentations with this disclaimer: I am an expert, but not the only expert. That is a way to remind the audience that I know what I am talking about. And in the spirit of cultural humility, I am also willing to learn more. I also remind people that there is power in "OK." You may not agree with everything that I say, and that is OK.

As a Black woman and HIV advocate, who happens to be transgender, I harness the power of OK while navigating spaces that are often treacherous for people like me. There are no corporate boardrooms that were created for HIV advocates. There are no college campuses created for Black trans women. There are no members of Congress who identify as transgender or non-binary.

These are constant reminders of the power of allies and that we are stronger when we fight together. With that in mind, let's talk about some ways that all of us can recognize World AIDS Day by harnessing our power.

Each of us represents many different communities. Those communities make up our intersectional identities. For some of us, those identities hold lots of privilege in society, and for some of us, it sets us up for more challenges. Those of us with more privilege must leverage that into action.

We can no longer think of HIV as a disease that "those people" get. We cannot rely on the government to dictate that quality of life for people living with HIV. We can no longer allow systemic racism, historical trauma, patriarchy and generational traditions to stop progress.

According to USA Today, "Though men remain the largest group of people diagnosed with HIV, Black women make up the majority of new HIV cases among women." You don't have to be a Black woman to fight for Black women. And, as a transgender woman, I say that you don't have to be trans to fight for our community. AIDSMap cites, "Trans women had a staggering 66 times higher odds of being infected with HIV", and goes on to note, "For trans men, this was 6.8 times higher." Each of us has a part to play in eradicating HIV.

Not everyone was meant to march in protests - some are better at making protest signs than carrying them. Some people are better at writing checks than flipping tables. Whatever you do, do it with intention and do it often. Use whatever privilege you have in society to speak for those whose voices are not as loud as yours. Learn more about HIV and its impact in your own community, in the US and the world. Then do something.

Fight misinformation and disinformation every time. (I define misinformation as a mistake. I define disinformation as willful deceit.) On this World AIDS Day, and every other, remind yourself that people living with HIV deserve to be loved and treated with dignity and respect. Equality and equity are not the same thing. Trans people are real and our lives are valuable. Black women deserve equitable access to PrEP and high quality, cultural appropriate HIV care. LatinX women often face cultural barriers that must be addressed to get the care they need.

Most importantly, remember that you are a part of the solution to end the HIV epidemic. I love you!

Tori Cooper (she, her, hers) is a Health & Equity Consultant, CDC subject matter expert, educator, published author and leader in the transgender and HIV communities with over 30 years of experience. She proudly serves as the Human Rights Campaign's Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. Ms. Cooper was recently sworn to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) which provides advice, information, and recommendations to the Secretary of Health & Human Services.

Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, Equal Pride.

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