Closing thoughts on the International AIDS Conference 2016

Niko Kowell

I needed to take some time out to process before writing my final blog post. There was a lot to take in and I’m sure I’ll be processing for the coming months, but I wanted to leave you all with some thoughts. In general, the International AIDS conference 2016 was a humbling experience. I was honored to be able to attend, learn, and represent on behalf of my Trans community. I was able to connect to so many folks around the world doing work similar to me. I made friends and connections that will help support our work worldwide.

Further, as a white (cis-passing) Trans masculine person and provider, I am aware of the privilege and responsibility that I have, and take it seriously. It’s clear that the conference has not done enough, although they are trying in small ways to support Trans communities, most specifically Trans women of color. But we all need to do better and we need to do more. Allies like myself need to lift up and make space for TWOC. In the same regard, without shifting the focus or importance of TWOC, we need to have space for Trans masculine/Trans male/FTM people to be able to engage with each other and providers. This is a fine line and Trans masculine folks often “take up too much space.” Having said that, I think we can hold space for everyone if we are thoughtful and seek input from others.

We also need to address the sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and general hate towards people who are different, if we hope to end HIV/AIDS. If we are too busy focusing on what we don’t have in common, we miss out on what we do have in common. HIV is now controllable for folks that are both positive and negative. This is HUGE and now we have the tools in order to shift this epidemic. But it starts with us shifting our attitudes. We cannot end this if white people don’t recognize that racism fuels the disparities in our communities. We cannot end this if straight cis people don’t address homophobia and transphobia. We cannot do this if we continue to look down on those with HIV. Stigma and hate kills. Let’s be the generation that focuses on the fact that everyone deserves love, care and kindness.

Overall, I was excited and proud to be at the International AIDS conference 2016 and I lift up the voices of my community. We as Trans people must continue to fight, take up space, and do the work needed to make change, but that should not just be on the shoulders of Trans people. It is everyone’s responsibility to make these changes, while avoiding tokenizing our community further. I encourage all cis folks, Trans masculine folks, and white Trans folks to take this to heart. Here’s to our future!

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