- December 1, 2014
Post Submitted by Raquel Sapien, Trans Latin@ Coalition
World AIDS Day is a time for us to remember all those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS over the past year and to recommit ourselves to ending the epidemic. This week, HRC is shining a spotlight on the people and communities often forgotten in the struggle to combat HIV and AIDS, including Latinos/as and transgender women.
I am a Latina transgender woman who has been living with HIV for over 12 years. Growing up as a transgender woman in a Hispanic and Catholic family was extremely difficult for me, to the point that I had to leave home when I was 16 years old. I was alone and turned to the only option I had left – the streets. I lived a little over a third of my life on the streets, struggling to survive. During those years, I was seduced into a life of sex work and theft that slowly spiraled into drug addiction. I finally ended up serving five consecutive years in prison. It was while I was in jail waiting to be transferred to prison that I was first diagnosed with HIV.
Just when I thought I had reached the end of the line, God in all His might surrounded me with His presence, and I found the time and space for reconciliation with myself – and slowly with my family.
When I was released from prison, I became involved in HIV/AIDS work initially as a volunteer with the Southwest AIDS Committee in El Paso, TX. Even though I had no formal education, my hard work was rewarded. I was invited to move to Washington, D.C. to manage a national HIV capacity-building and assistance (CBA) program with the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA). I have had the privilege of working in the field for over 12 years. Now, years later, I still serve in The National Latino AIDS Action Networks, and as a consultant to HRSA as part of their grant review team. I have also returned to college and am working on becoming a licensed social worker.
My strength is my husband, who is HIV-negative. We are a serodiscordant couple but we have never had an issue with being serodiscordant. We have both been responsible and taken steps to protect ourselves and one another. More importantly, I believe we have made a statement to others and helped to reduce the stigma that stops so many HIV-positive individuals from attempting to have loving, caring relationships. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contacted me about participating in the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign, my husband and I saw it as an opportunity to share our story with a national audience.
As I reflect on my own struggles over the course of my life, I am proud to be able to share my story with other people who may be dealing with similar struggles. I want to show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel. As a transgender woman, I am also passionate about advancing HIV prevention and decreasing stigma about HIV in the transgender community.
The first step in decreasing HIV-related stigma is for more HIV-positive people to share their stories. I am proud to be a part of the solution, as I truly believe that we can stop HIV together.
In honor of World AIDS Day, HRC Foundation has released a new research brief entitled "Transgender People and HIV: What We Know"and will be featuring the stories of individuals living with HIV on the HRC blog throughout this week.