Didn't Attend USCA 2018? Here's What You Missed -- and Why You Should Attend Next Year

Just after the close of the U.S. Conference on AIDS (USCA) in Orlando, Florida, we held a Facebook Live to discuss some of the highlights from the conference, some of the people we met, and what it's like doing this work as two young HIV-positive activists of color. Watch the video or read the transcription of our conversation below.

Giuliani Alvarenga: Hi, welcome to TheBody. This is TheBody, and my name is Giuliani Alvarenga. I am from East L.A. I am a contributing writer for TheBody, and I am a social media ambassador.

Yes on 10, quick shout out to photo bomb this, but we need California to vote yes on 10 for rent control, because the rent is too damn high. OK.

So ...

Tiffany Marrero: Yes.

GA: So, we're here with Tiffany. We're going to be checking in and talking about the USCA conference that happened in Orlando, Florida. I'm going to be checking in about two highlights of the event, which were hard to pick. Because overall, it's just been an incredible conference. I had an amazing time meeting new people, getting to know Tiffany in person, who is spectacular and amazing, and just, so much, so much, motivation for me.

You know, she's the first person that told me that the poz community doesn't fuck around. We are very, very tight. And I think that that's really important to fight the stigma. We have to be really, really close together.

And so for me, having seen some incredible people at the transgender luncheon was incredible. I saw Maria Roman. Shout out to her. She has been an incredible, incredible activist in Los Angeles for the trans Latinas, and shout out to Bamby Salcedo -- just incredible pioneers that have been able to create a safe space for people here in Hollywood and East LA, and a few other chapters in LA, itself. There's a lot of pockets. LA is just pretty big.

Also, I wanted to check in and talk about this young activist who is such a brave young man. He's from Honduras. And he was actually being investigated by his university. He was criminalized for being HIV positive. A student, a peer of his, reported him to the university, and he just had to face a terrible, terrible ordeal. And we're talking about someone who is first-gen migrant, came to this country at around 9-12 years old, first to go to college, first to even graduate high school. Has a scholarship, you know? Shout out to that. And just really, just, on his hustle.

And, you know, all just for this to in limbo, right? This fear that he could have lost so much because someone decided to report him. Someone decided to use this legal system and badger him with these policies that are going on, right? And so I really wanted to just check in, and give him a shout out.

Because one of the things that I really enjoyed about the conference was that he was there. I had a chance to interview him and talk to him. One of things that I really, really enjoyed about our conversation was that we both bonded over the #CentralAmericanTwitter, which is this social, virtual platform that has been going around now for a couple of years. And it's just been a community for us, you know?

We talk about the diversity behind our Central American heritage. There are just so many nuances there. We get to learn about each other's experiences, and just read up on our culture, and just continue to motivate each other and inspire ourselves.

He really just made it known that those were some of the platforms that kept him going. And I truly value out. So, shout out to folks on CentralAmericanTwitter who are watching right now. Thank you so much for creating this platform for us, to continue to motivate ourselves and just fight collectively, you know, against these systems of oppression.

And, speaking of systems of oppression, I do also want to just talk about some of the bureaucratic hoops. Me, personally, I went through something recently with my ADAP [AIDS Drug Assistance Program]. So, I do want to just talk about the fact that -- you know, give like a little shout out to the ADAP locator.

For those who don't know what ADAP is, -- so I'm just talking about California right now -- so that we can get support for our HIV meds, and for other medical services, you know? It should be on the little drop box there, the phone number to ADAP, and also the phone number to the South Carolina Services, for folks with HIV/AIDS, right? In case they need meds during this, during Hurricane Florence. You know, I hope everyone is safe, everyone is practicing the buddy system. Make sure that you just keep people aware of where you are and how you're doing.

So, I just wanted to do that, just throw that out there before I leave it to the amazing Tiffany.

TM: Aww. Well, first of all, I love, I love everything. Thank you.

Thank you for joining me on this. I love that USCA provided us the space to actually connect, right? Like, not just through our writing, but to meet face to face. And it's crazy. Because now when I read -- now, I went back, and I reread some of the content you have. And I think about -- now that I actually met you -- how impactful that was, just having to share a space with you. So, thank you for all the interviews you've done.

This is like your first -- you said this was your first USCA, right?

GA: It was. And can I just say, when I read your first article, too, from TheBody, I was really, really just hyped. I really wanted to meet you. I thought that you're an incredible person with agency, and it really inspired me.

TM: Right. Aw, you, too. I mean, I just -- I'm so glad we're on this together. And I love that you mention policy; I love that you mention advocacy. Because I think, on my end of the world, I came back -- this is my second USCA and my first time was through the Youth Initiative Program -- and it was cool to kind of come back as an alum, someone who aged out, but someone who was invited back, and to sit with the new, the 2018 youth.

As you and I, as young people, I think about how we connected so seamlessly, and how important it was for you and I to connect, to now have, I think, a better experience, both of navigating in TheBody. So, for me to be able to then do that for the next generation of advocates or youth; I had to sit back and be like, wow! I'm able to give that back.

And I feel like -- tell me if you agree -- that conferences allow people that space to, not just connect, but I think to get challenged, to experience new things. I know, for me, the hardest thing about getting to USCA last year was because I never flew by myself out of Florida. So the hardest part was understanding gates, terminals, right? Like, making flights. Like, cancelling tickets. Like, getting myself from the airport to the hotel in one piece.

And so now that I was able to navigate that a year later really easily, it's really empowering. But it's almost, it's almost, I don't know. USCA gave me that reason to do that. And those are life skills that you learn. Now I know how to travel a little easier. But I used USCA as a way to kind of figure that out, and then also have community in that, too.

This is your first time. Did you get a sense of community or the sense that people in any other circumstance wouldn't be able to commune this way, but USCA kind of provided that? So, it provided sessions, right? And it provided education. But also, it provided a sense of family, would you feel like, in these spaces?

GA: Definitely. I definitely feel that. And I had that experience, too. And for folks tuning in, we're talking about the USCA conference that took place last week in Orlando, Florida. And talking about family, you know what I mean? Chosen family, the person that I was staying with, Tyrell, that's like I made a new friend. You know what I mean?

TM: Tell that story. Did you tell the story of how you and Tyrell? That's crazy. There's a story behind.

GA: No, I haven't told the story.

TM: Oh, there's a story. All right. So, you guys -- so, I'll shout out to BULI Institute. I'll shout out to Duane and Cedric and everybody. So, when you told me that you needed a roommate, my first thought was Baby. I was like, "Let me see if one of the babies are coming to USCA."

And I texted a friend, Duane. He's like, "I know someone. Tyrell."

And Tyrell was awesome new into this work. And it was cool to have you and him share a space in that. Because you guys are both new. But you're kind of also seasoned in this. So it was weird to think about how much we had a community partnership. Like, I knew somebody who needed a place to stay at USCA. You had that space. And then, boom! And then it was allowing you guys to connect. And now you have a new partner -- not partner -- but you have a new friend, or a new person to kind of hang out with. Isn't that crazy?

GA: It's so beautiful. He's really, really inspiring, just like the work that he does. He's on his grind and, you know, he's getting his GRE going, as well. I really, really just can't wait to meet in person again.

And I told him -- as well as you -- you always have a home in LA. Come visit, you know?

TM: Yes!

GA: I think family is so, so important, especially when we share some common, common factors, right? We save similar experiences from our own positionality, right? And we can sort of navigate that together and understand each other, you know? And be there for each other. You know what I mean? Like, really, really be there and hold each other accountable. You know what I mean? Just to see each other as family.

TM: Yes. And also, too, how you're able to maybe build that outside USCA. So, what I found really beautiful about being able to come back to this a second time and engaging with the youth? I think it showed me -- the first time I went to USCA, I left really sad, heartbroken. I was crying. Because, you know, I wasn't in my safe space anymore.

And when I was able to come back, I think I left this USCA a lot more confident and less anxious that I wouldn't be able to find community outside USCA.

So, for those of you newcomers to USCA who don't come with an agency, kind of like how Giuliani and I came? If you're young and new? Look for those opportunities, too, to connect. Because I think, with the pain of leaving, what you can bring back to that community, that setting, a year later is amazing.

I mean, I brought back to USCA the second time so much more of myself that it started me off. And I was able to kind of finish it there, you know? So sometimes, maybe, going to these conferences, don't have any expectations. But put yourself out there: Socialize with people; go up to folks that you are really excited to hear about.

If you see a speaker, you really want to engage with them. If you ever think, "Oh, you know, Giuliani, he's from TheBody," don't be afraid to walk up and say, "Hey, I saw you on TheBody. Let's connect." Right? Don't be afraid to kind of put yourself out there and be vulnerable.

Were you able to make? I don't know. Giuliani, were you able? Or did any of the friendships you made at USCA, were they kind of different? Were they new? Were they something special to USCA that you don't think you would have been able to create outside USCA when you went there? Any friends you made?

GA: I think that it's -- yeah, it's definitely special, in a sense that we -- I don't feel alone. You know what I mean? I don't feel alone. I didn't really feel alone at that conference. I felt that was a safe space for me. You know what I mean? I wasn't going to be stigmatized or have to face any type of microaggressions in regards to my HIV status. You know what I mean?

And I was learning about other people, you know? Who have maybe had this status longer than I, you know? I've been HIV positive now for two years, soon to be, and so, you know. ...

TM: A baby.

GA: And so, I'm still learning a lot. You know what I mean? I'm still learning a lot -- which is why I'm very thankful for the opportunity to write with TheBody. Because it's also been a very therapeutic process for me. You know what I mean? Being able to be grounded, mentally, emotionally, you know? I'm working more on my spirituality right now, currently, you know what I mean? But really trying to be at a better place overall.

TM: You have amazing energy, by the way. So, in case you're wondering, your energy is so impactful, and so amazing. And I'm thankful that we got to meet.

And thank you for putting yourself out there. It's not easy. Trust. I'm glad that you're doing this work. Self-care is good for you, too.

And in thinking about self-care, too, I want to give a shout out -- or, I want us to acknowledge, too, thinking about policy and HIV decriminalization, or hopefully one day a repeal process. Check out Sanjay Johnson's case. His story is really impactful. I wanted to just shout out and uplift that.

I suggest you read his story to connect with him. I will tell you it hurts, as a black woman, to see my black folks in the community hurt. So, Sanjay: Look him up. Acknowledge him. Donate if you can. He is, unfortunately, another black human who is, unfortunately, having to pay for something that I don't think he should necessarily have to go through or pay for at all.

I want you -- I highly urge you guys -- if you support black and brown bodies, if you want to uplift black and brown people, if you think that black lives matter, check him out. Check out his story. It's important. HIV repeal -- it needs to happen. Because it puts us all in danger.

I just wanted to, like, segue into that, to bring that light up. So, check him out. It will be on the comments. Yeah.

And last thing: opportunities. If you are a young person and you're watching this and you want to engage more in HIV, just, activism, leadership; if there are things, if it's in your heart to give back to the community, and you're really, really, really excited about it, check out NMAC's BLOC program, between the ages of 18 to 25, where you can apply for overall BLOC. It's building leaders of color in this movement. So, if you are a person of color living with HIV, and you want allies, so on and so forth, check them out.

If you're looking at USCA, also look at NMAC, and then also look at the Leadership Pipeline -- for anybody out there who really wants to get in the fine family. Because we're a family. Oh! And submit to TheBody. Duh.

GA: Yes. Please submit to TheBody.

TM: And what's your social media stuff? Before we forget, Giuliani, what's your social media stuff?

GA: Oh. My social media is @PrinceOfViana. It's my Grandma's last name, and I'm her prince. So, I'm @PrinceOfViana. But, yes. You can find that on Instagram and Twitter. And, yes.

And what's your Instagram and Twitter?

TM: @PositivelyTiff on Instagram; @TiffPositively on Twitter; and #undetectablepussy. Because body autonomy is for everybody. And people living with HIV have sex, too, and are entitled to orgasms. And don't stop having sex if you are that person with HIV. If you choose to use condoms you can. Condoms aren't the end of the world -- so sorry; I'm going on a tangent.

GA: Except, I really love -- sorry.

TM: That's all right. Go on.

GA: No, no. I really, really love how you claim your agency and your sexuality. And I really loved hearing you at your panel. Can you talk a little bit more about what you were sharing?

TM: Which panel? Which one?

GA: The young adult panel that we had.

TM: Oh. Ooh, you -- OK.


TM: Aw, that's so -- thank you. First of all, you know what? I'm looking kind of shy about it, so when you brought it up I was like, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

So, I created a collaborative. So, it's a multiple collaborative measure that I made. But I just thought about, as a young black girl in this world, as a young black girl living with HIV, as a young black girl living with HIV who gets horny and has periods and stuff, why am I not given the same empowerment to liberate my sexual freedom as I think other folks can do?

So this -- USCA is important for multiple reasons. But the biggest reason I think I put so much into loving the USCA and the Youth Initiative Program is because weeks before I had contemplated my own suicide. I had it, like, really -- I had it written it out. I was ready to go. I was so sad.

My prevention director was like, "Hey. Before you do anything crazy, here's USCA Youth Initiative. Apply."

And at the very least, I was like, "Well, let me go out of town before I do it," right? "Before I kill myself, let me just go out of town."

I went to USCA in D.C., and life changed. Right? But, as my life was changing, and I started to find more value in me living, I thought about the things that motivated me to take my meds. Right?

And so, for some people, it's like health. Right, Giuliani? It's like: I want to be healthy; I want to be strong. That's why I take my meds.

For me, as someone who's been living with HIV for a very long time, the motivation was kind of condomless sex, right? And my physician put it in a way that was really beautiful. She was like: "This allows you to liberate yourself. This allows you to date how you want to date. This allows you so much more power. Utilize it."

"And if the only way that I can get you to take these meds is to have undetectable viral load, and to support that, I'm going to support you."

So, I think that's a big reason why I am this transparent. One, because in Florida, it's a third-degree felony if somebody wants to try my life for HIV. So I purposely document it in a global way, so there's always evidence. But, two, because my existence is very radical. And for me, as a person living with an [sexually transmitted infection] overall, in general, for me to still say, "No, I have maybe condomless sex; I have anal sex; I have all types of sex, and I enjoy it," I think is a very radical thing. But I think it helps move the movement along, right?

One thing I noticed at USCA, and I was really frustrated and thinking, why do we have to have so many USCAs? Why? Why are we in these spaces, talking about capacity building, still, in 2018? HIV's been around for a very, very long time, right? So I think it's just my little way of being more transparent, of being more blunt.

I think somehow thinking about the movement as a big boulder, I feel like I'm doing a little more to push it along. That's why writing, I think, is so important, and storytelling is so important, and why you, documenting all that you do, that you, doing the interviews that you do, and you connecting that way -- it pushes the movement along a little bit more.

So, I highly suggest that everybody on this right now? Please move this movement along. Be transparent. Live your life. Document everything. Take those selfies. Go to those parties. Hang with that person. Write that story.

Submit to TheBody, right? Go on that [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] commercial if they email you. Like, be transparent. Like, tell your truth, and live in it, and love. And the more we show ourselves, I think, the more our numbers will show.

It's kind of how funding is, right? If more people are entering a zip code, then we get more. Same thing. If you want to get movement, if you want to destroy white supremacy, right? If you want to destroy patriarchy, you need to be present. You need to be solidified, right, as a group. We need to be here. People need to see us. And they need to smell us.

I'm so sorry. You're amazing.

GA: I love it. I love it. For true, it is.

TM: Whoo! Shout out to the Black AIDS Institute. Whoo! Shout out. OK, I'm done. I'm good. HINAC. BULI. Shout out. PWN-USA. Shout out. OK, I'm done. I'm done.

GA: And also, I just want to do another quick shout out to Prop 10 for California. Rent is too damn high. And we really need to also address this. This is a public health issue, as well. People are becoming homeless.

TM: Yes. Tell us. Tell us.

GA: And a lot of these people also need medical assistance. You know what I mean? This is a public health issue, so this is relevant to talk about on TheBody right now. So, please, California, vote yes on 10. Yeah. OK.

TM: Vote yes on 10. Vote yes on 10. Give us more funding. Vote, vote, vote. Uplift Sanjay. ADAP. Resources. Check out the links. So, if you guys, if you're still on, check out the links. Pass them on. They're out there for the whole world.

If you have any questions you can hit up Giuliani. You can hit up me. Hit up TheBody, overall. Check out some content. And, anything? Last closing words, Giuliani?

GA: Just -- you mentioned the survey, right? That's what you were bringing up?

TM: Oh, I missed that. I'm so sorry. OK. So, before you roll out, before we all tune out, check out the survey. It's being dropped right now. That will really help us to make TheBody visible. That would be really great, to be able to give us better feedback from the community, to let us know what you guys want to see. Especially if you're working with youth, it's really important that you give us our feedback. Because we are creating a resource center for us online, and we're trying to update it. So, if you work with youth, if you work with folks internationally, please pass that on. Do the survey. Do the survey. Do the survey.

GA: Yes. Please. Please. Because this survey is targeting youth, ages 18 to 30. And so please, please, please, share. Participate in the survey. Yeah, share your ideas, please. Because it is a collective effort. You know what I mean? TheBody is really doing amazing work to push this forward.

TM: A black woman's collaborative. Black women. Black boys. So if you work with youth, check that out. If you don't, still check it out. If you know someone who does, you can send them that survey, too. So if you know anybody else who you think needs to see it that's not on this live right now, you can send it to him.

All right. We're done.

GA: Bye, love! Mwah! Love you.

TM: I love you more. You're so cute.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Giuliani Alvarenga is a UC Berkeley alumnus who double majored in English and gender & women's studies. He is a Sidley Austin Pre-Law Scholar and wrapping up his two-year clerkship with Munger, Tolles, & Olson before he begins law school.

Tiffany Marrero is a sex-positive advocate using her lived experience as a black, queer, cisgender millennial woman living with HIV to work with, and on behalf of, other people in her community. Tiffany has earned her bachelor's degree in social work (B.S.W.) from Florida Gulf Coast University and currently resides in Broward County, Florida.