Discussion in the Transgender Network Zone: International AIDS Conference

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Nikki “Tita Aida” Calma

It’s officially the first day of the International AIDS Conference held in Durban, South Africa! As I make my trip out to the city of Durban to the International Conference Centre or as everyone describes, “ICC,” I can already sense the excitement, anxiousness and energy of the 18,000 attendees ready to share, learn, and fight for what they believe their communities are representing and deserve around this epidemic.

This year’s theme is “Access Equity Rights Now.” I situated myself in the Global Village where organizations from around the world have set up to display the excellent work they have been doing. I decided to hang out at the Transgender Network Zone, which was hosted by various trans led and serving organizations. In the booth, I participated in a couple of group discussions.

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One of them was to evaluate and consult around the usage of a newly formed group called Initial Trans Fund. I was among trans folks who came from India, South Africa, Kenya, and New Zealand. The facilitator asked questions on what criteria should be considered when awarding the funds, how issues or causes are rated and prioritized, and all of those nifty things around grants. I was struck to find a common theme of inquiry. They were all inquiring about whose issues are prioritized and how much the fund was going to be. There was a certain “desperation” on these questions when asked. I then asked what the typical grant was for a contract. Most of them responded, five to ten thousand per program for two years. My jaw dropped. That amount was what my program would spend for a big event for our clients in the US! I couldn’t get over the fact that they would stretch that amount for two years of programming, which includes salaries, program supplies, and agency over costs.


I then reflected on how lucky our programs are in the US. Not to spoil the mood, I participated in the discussion and shared the best practices that I learned from my twenty years of working at API Wellness Center. It did inspire some ideas in me on how I can support these trans organizations and programs on a global scale.  

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I ended the day feeling proud. So proud! For the first time, IAC has provided a space to discuss the trans men community in the face of MSM context. It was a discussion among trans men about their issues, concerns, and topics that would be relevant to them. Niko was asked to be part of this amazing panel. He shined through with all the amazing work he has done with the agency around HIV prevention programming for trans men who have sex with men. Along with other participants, Niko informed, educated, and empowered many with knowledge about his community and the issues they faced around HIV. Aside from those merits, it made me proud because he and I have a great work relationship. As his supervisor, it felt good to see how he has evolved and grown in the mastery of his job as the supervisor of the Trans Thrive Program at API Wellness Center. He is addressing and paving the way for his community and their needs around HIV prevention and care. 


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