“HIV is now considered a manageable disease. However, what we’re finding is that in black and brown trans communities particularly, we’re not seeing a lot of the benefits of modern medication,” Tori Cooper, executive director of Advocates for Better Care Atlanta says in a new video from the National AIDS Memorial. After listing the myriad disparities that transgender women of color face both in preventing HIV acquisition and living well with HIV, Cooper says that, for trans women with HIV, it’s a completely different decade.
“We are where the country was 30 years ago,” she adds.
Cooper’s video is one of 17 videos released by the National AIDS Memorial for its annual project, Surviving Voices. Every year, the National AIDS Memorial and the HIV Story Project release a series of videos as part of their oral history project, which aims to “ensure that stories and lessons of the epidemic are captured, curated, and retained for future generations.”
“From the first recognized cases in 1981 to now, AIDS is a story of communities, consciousness raising, hope, and determination,” according to the National AIDS Memorial. After previously capturing stories from other marginalized communities, like the Asian and Pacific Islander community in 2018, the project has turned its lenses to the transgender community for a series of 17 videos starring a vast array of the trans community, including trans men and trans women as well as nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people.
The series aims to counteract a historical lack of data and stories centering transgender individuals in the HIV epidemic, even though rates of HIV among trans women, especially black trans women, are extremely high, while there is very little data on trans men.
The video series stars several well-known AIDS activists, including Cecilia Chung, whose story has also been preserved in the ABC miniseries When We Rise. The series also includes Dee Dee Ngozi Chamblee, an Atlanta-based activist and executive director of LaGender, Inc. Chamblee previously shared her story with TheBody as part of its This Positive Life series.
The series’ introduction video covers the myriad topics that interviewees probe throughout the videos, including lack of culturally competent medical care for trans people, lack of jobs, and a general lack of data on trans people.
“People were not even recognized as existing, let alone being at risk of HIV,” Willy Wilkinson, writer and public health consultant, says of the lack of data historically on transgender people in the opening video for the series. “We still have so far to go. I want to see the day when everyone is celebrated for being their true self. When we say, ‘This is who I am!’ and people say, ‘Yeah, be yourself. Be who you are.’”