September 24, 2015
Marsha is Executive Director of The Afiya Center for HIV Prevention and Sexual Reproductive Justice and is a member of AVAC’s PxROAR program.
At the onset of this year’s US Conference on AIDS, I had already made a conscious and very well thought out decision that this would be my absolute last USCA. This conference seems to have become too matter of fact and a gathering spot for those who have the financial means to get here, lodge here and eat here. It seems to have become a who’s who among the elite of the HIV community. Needless to say I did not have really huge expectations for USCA 2015 and then something happened—I stumbled upon an amazing lunch plenary session. The opening plenary had some surprising speakers who left me with much excitement and assuredness of things to come. The youth speaker representing the NMAC youth scholars did a wonderful job exemplifying that there is much hope with this next generation HIV Advocates that will be relentless in achieving the quest to get to Zero.
“The Numbers Don’t Lie,” the theme of this year’s conference, was amplified when plenary speaker Valarie Rochester, Imperative Director of Programs and long-time public health advocate, spoke and it was her speech that changed my conference experience. These words spoken by Valerie illuminated what the numbers don’t tell. “While we can never disregard the numbers,” she said, “they do not tell the whole story.” Valerie Spencer did an amazing job lifting up the lives of transgender women, but did we hear her? Transgender women relegated to receive services at gay, bi-sexual and men-who-have sex-with-men service providers is an insult, and with that it makes the numbers lie.
Transgendered women should receive services from women centered organizations and those organizations should be adequately funded to meet those needs. USCA must do a better job amplifying women, all women, rather than it appearing as they are there as an afterthought. Thank you USCA for the gift of Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson bringing the numbers into perspective with his statement “See all of me or you’re lying.”
USCA 2015 was a different experience for me. It was a reminder of how far we have come, how much more we have to do, how much more we can do and how much farther we have to go.