In July, several National Advisory Board members of TLC’s Positively Trans program traveled to the International AIDS Conference to represent our work in communities of trans folks living and thriving with HIV. The International AIDS Conference is the largest conference on any global health issue in the world, with over 17,000 activists, artists, scientists, and representatives of key populations in attendance.

 This year’s theme was “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges”, a focus that hoped to highlight  “rights-based approaches” in order to more effectively reach key populations. Positively Trans’ delegation sought to obtain visibility for the unique and urgent needs for trans inclusion and trans leadership in the global discussion of HIV care and AIDS prevention. However, despite having a focus on “building bridges” to underserved populations, the inclusion and prioritization of trans voices throughout the conference left much to be desired.

“Throughout the conference, I noticed in different sessions, that when the ‘trans community’ was mentioned, panelists did not distinguish trans women from trans men or GNC folks,” Achim Howard of Positively Trans NAB stated, “They combined all of us together, or failed to mention us at all.”

At TLC, we recognize that what’s most urgent about centering the needs of transgender and gender non-conforming folks living with HIV, including those of color, is that we are so often denied our right to be seen, heard, and affirmed as our authentic selves. When tackling issues such as HIV/AIDS, centering those most vulnerable to neglect and lack of resources not only engages the unique needs of those key demographics, but it can also improve upon larger access to safety and security.

Not only were trans delegates speaking up at AIDS2018, but leaders in our communities were also afforded the opportunity to build trans-continental networks, share their stories, and take center stage on discussions that rightfully depended upon our input.

“In addition to these things, the positive side to attending the conference is that I was able, finally, to connect with men of trans experience from all over the world. I was embraced by trans men from a few countries in Africa, who told me it was because of me that they are still here,” Howard added.

He continued, “I never knew how much of an impact I had by telling my story and living in my authentic truth until that moment. It was an emotional, heartfelt experience for me. It proved that I was meant to be at the International AIDS Conference.”

Positively Trans shared real-time updates from the conference center during their time in Amsterdam. You can check out the Twitter recap, here.