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.

The range of voices here is incredible. I can truly say that I have never felt more comfortable or more eager to learn, not just about HIV/AIDS related issues, but about myself and the people occupying this earth with me. This morning, I got incredibly emotional as I was sitting in the morning plenary it hit me that I have never been in a room with so many people who care about so many of the same issues as I, who care about the hurdles I deal with and people I love face.

On yesterday morning when sex workers and folks who inject drugs took over the stage, instead of falling silent or booing, people stood up and cheered. On Monday night when Charlize stated that whites oppress blacks and then blame them for their oppression, people yelled and danced in agreement.

The interfaith pre-conference and the main conference have both shown me that there are other people like me all over the world, and we are part of the group working towards change and justice. This space is the kind of space I have been craving, but it is one of a kind. We need more spaces like these, and I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a voice among many other voices here.

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