People of Faith Must Fight Against All Injustice

Shawanda Jackson

When I think about my time at the 2016 International AIDS Conference there are three words that summarize my experience – Faith, Justice and Action. As a young adult leader who lives and works daily towards the fight against injustice, I was extremely excited and anxious to learn from other movers and shakers who are advocating for human right and freedom for all people. I was excited to go to an unfamiliar place and grow and learn about such an epidemic that is not discussed in the many communities that I am apart of.

The week started with the EAA Interfaith Pre-Conference. At the interfaith conference there were conversations led by people who were living with the disease, people who were researchers, advocators and individuals who in some shape or form are affected by this disease. We discussed the roles that faith leaders and individuals have in the conversations about faith and sexuality. There was discussion about global prevention, treatment targets, new research, global responses to the AIDS response and funding. There was discussion about who are most affected by HIV & AIDS – the vulnerable, transgenders, gays, women between the ages of 15-25,sex workers, drug users, lesbians and youth.  All of these conversations ended with charging us to respect the human rights of all people and  to continue to fight for equality and continuing to respect and always live in love.   Continue reading “People of Faith Must Fight Against All Injustice”

Listening. And Then Listening Some More.

Adwoa Afreh (Twitter: @Afresh_handle); ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission Alumni – Southern Africa

Earlier this week, I arrived back in South Africa, a familiar place, a humbling place and forever a teaching place. Being in this space for the 21st International AIDS Conference is strengthening. The truth telling that I have witnessed has been the highlight of my time here. I applaud this conference for creating spaces for various organizations and movements to stand in their truth and call upon more allies to stand in solidarity with them. During my time here, many panelists and speakers have advocated for vulnerable and stigmatized groups like sex workers, young children, LGBTQI, gender based violence victims etc., to be invited at the conversation table regarding the eradication of HIV.

In these past days I’ve been spending time listening and listening and listening some more to sex workers, interfaith leaders, pharmaceutical representatives, activists, and conference goers. It seems like this 2030 goal is what most people have been speaking of the most. The goal being ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by the year 2030. Realistic? Possibly. Is the work going to be difficult? Most definitely. Nonetheless, I will be honest and say that I have a few doubts about that goal date.

Continue reading “Listening. And Then Listening Some More.”

Listening to Unheard Voices

Starshine Christian, Public Health Student, University of Nevada

I have been away from home for officially a week, and today is my favorite day yet. I’ve explored the city, visited the beach, eaten well, but today is different. Today is the second full day that I’m attending the International AIDS Conference.

At this conference I am surrounded by scientists, activists, journalists, sex workers, public servants, government officials, musicians, actors, ranging from all ages, races, identities, and classes. The night before last I saw both Nelson Mandela’s grandson, and Charlize Theron speak on the same stage. Yesterday, I watched a panel consisting of a queer woman from Cameroon, a queer man from Pakistan, a gay Mexican person living in New York, a tranmasculine person from Taiwan, and a woman who is a sex worker from the Netherlands discuss the intersection of sexual pleasure, health, and rights. And today, I have the opportunity to see Bill Gates speak. Continue reading “Listening to Unheard Voices”

Supporting Adolescents Through Early Disclosure: A Call To Justice

Victoria Mumbula, Youth Advocate and Activist; Lusaka, Zambia

I’ve been inspired to write this after attending a session on Tuesday  19th July. I have been  living with HIV for 22 years now and it took me until 2012 for me to disclose my  status. It happened when I was given an opportunity by the ELCA and LWF to attend the 19th IAC in Washington D.C.

When I arrived, I didn’t know to expect. It was my first time being in an environment where HIV/AIDS  was the key subject.Since that time, I have taken every  opportunity that I am given because I want to be an instrument to friends, family, church and community. I want people to use me and learn from my life experiences as a person living with HIV and a person with hope for a better  tomorrow!

It wasn’t until  Tuesday, 19th  July that I stopped blaming my auntie, whom I call my  mother, because she’s the only women I have  known and is the best. I have always blamed her for allowing me to have so many friends and live a normal childhood like  all  the normal  kids. I have a best friend who does not know about my status. I have known  her since we were in the 3rd grade. I have not told her because when I bring up the topic  of  HIV, she says, “I swear that one day I will test HIV  positive and I will die.” I know understand my mother’s reasons for note telling me. Continue reading “Supporting Adolescents Through Early Disclosure: A Call To Justice”

Stepping Back, Leaning In

Gabrielle Horton (Twitter: @gabhorton); Incoming Master’s in Public Policy Candidate, University of Michigan

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July 5th: Alton Sterling.

July 6th: Philando Castile.

July 7th: Five members of the Dallas Police Department.

And on July 8th, I served my last day with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, where I oversaw our Public Engagement efforts in South Los Angeles. The timing of these brutal murders, two of which were documented on smartphone video cameras, and subsequent protests –  including in Los Angeles (where Black Lives Matter protesters continue to occupy City Hall for a second week in a row) – have continued to weigh heavily on my heart and mind.

As the departure date for South Africa drew near, I found myself relieved to be free from work duties, which would have surely kept me buried sky high with briefing papers and emails ensuring our office’s proper response and presence in this ongoing narrative around law enforcement, communities of color, and violence. I even started to mentally frame the 21st International AIDS Conference as a vacation of some sorts, where I would simply join the rest of the ELCA Young Adult Cohort for a week of HIV/AIDS workshops and then return back to “reality” when I got back to America. I figured that 11,000 miles away with complete strangers could in no way match the horror I witnessed on my iPhone screen just days before; and could in no way compare to the haunting dreams of gun shots and bloodshed that I had to shake loose night after night. I was convinced that this experience would finally allow me the peace of mind – even if for just eight days – to box up and shelve away my American Blackness, and check back in once the wheels touched down at LAX the following week. And while I generally understood the racialization – and even the Africanization – of the HIV/AIDS epidemic to a certain degree, I was in no ways prepared for the level of intersectionality of this epidemic, which has so profoundly shed light on my identify as an advocate for urban communities of color, and a tireless advocate in the pursuit of justice, access and equity for all. Continue reading “Stepping Back, Leaning In”

Invisibility: A Super-Power to Some, Lived Experience for Others

Ryan Muralt, Program Development Associate
ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation (@reconcilingwrks)

Invisibility is often a desired “super-power” to be used against enemies or to light-heartedly spook your friends and family. However, there are those in our society who are forced into their invisibility; they do not get the choice to become invisible. Marginalized people like sex workers, transgender people, men who have sex with men, lesbian, gay, bisexual people and children with HIV are often forced to the margins and out of sight only illuminated for the split second mention in a high level speech.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Pause for a moment and think about how this phrase lands on your ears and then continue reading.

Continue reading “Invisibility: A Super-Power to Some, Lived Experience for Others”

Act Justly, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly

Aaron Geringer, Graduate Student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Minnesota State University, Mankato

When I first got into AIDS advocacy, my mentors gave me a shirt with a Dr. Seuss quotation I will never forget. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing will get better. It’s not.” Being in Durban at the 21st International AIDS Conference has been an emotionally infectious experience. Partially because of the pain, anger, and despair that AIDS has unleashed within our communities; but mostly infectious because of just how deeply these 18,000 individuals care about this cause. This has truly been the most diverse event I have been to, with people from all races, nationalities, occupations, ages, abilities, faiths, sexual orientations, and gender identifications. Despite our differences, we all share a profound desire to combat the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Continue reading “Act Justly, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly”