What inspired you to become involved in HIV/AIDS work?  

I was diagnosed HIV positive around 15 years ago. I became involved not only because of my personal situation, but because transgender populations are so impacted by HIV. That motivated me to somehow make a difference in my community.  

How I first got involved was that I was introduced to a support group run by [a Latino AIDS advocacy group called] Bienestar, and then eventually I became a staff member. I worked there for six years, and from there I was able to advocate for the specific needs of the community.  

There was someone that believed in me, someone who saw something in me that I was not able to see at the time, and with that I was able to blossom. I started to get involved. You have to work a lot, and you have to be responsible, speak up about what you believe.  

Tell us about your role as the transgender harm reduction project coordinator at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.  

Every day I supervise activities related to our transgender services. We provide…individualized case management where we try to address the specific needs of trans youth [and] mental health services as it relates to gender identity. We [also] provide them with general medical care and hormonal treatment, as well as participation in HIV prevention [and] a clinic to provide care for individuals who are HIV positive.  

For HIV prevention, we use an effective behavior intervention that was approved by the CDC and converted to meet the specific needs of transgender youth. We teach them the basics of HIV prevention and education, as well as providing them with communication skills so they can be advocates for their own communities and their peers to help change social norms.  

I am in love with my job. Resources are very limited, but sometimes [trans youth] just need somebody to listen to them. I’m there whenever I have the opportunity to do so, and to me that is one of the most rewarding things.  

How did you become involved with helping trans youth?  

The needs of teenagers are very complex, and with the addition of being a transgender youth, they become even more complex. Seeing myself every day what transgender youth go through has definitely motivated me to speak on their behalf and make sure that in some kind of way their voices are heard.  

Locally I am well known enough that anyone can call me if they need help, not just specific to youth but anyone that I know that needs services. I always try to influence them to go to the agencies that are most sensitive in the community.  

What are some of the issues affecting the trans youth community?  

Homelessness is very high within this community, as well as family rejection, sex work or prostitution. It’s just layers of different issues.  

In my personal story, that is something that I had to go through. I did go through homelessness, I did go through sex work, I went through drug addiction—and I went through all of those things when I was young.  

Some of those things haven’t changed in this community.  

What has changed for better or worse in the transgender community?  

Families need to educate their kids. What happens a lot of times when people come out as gay, is they are not always accepted by their families, particularly in the Latino community, but they are more likely to be accepted than when someone comes out as trans.  

In the Latino community, culturally there is a lot of shame that families go through [when someone comes out] because religion influences a lot. They really care about what other people may think of them, and they don’t want to deal with the rejection, so they just want to get rid of what they see as the problem and then deal with everything else.  

There are more services now, but obviously not enough. There is still a lot of sensitivity that needs to happen within society as a whole toward the trans community.