Tell me about the docuseries you’re a part of, Blind Angels.
Blind Angels dives deep into how the South is one of the areas most impacted by the HIV epidemic, while also developing some of the best responses to keep our communities safe. In particular, our episode—episode 2 about North Carolina—was very special to me because North Carolina is a place where the first medications to combat HIV were developed and synthesized, at Research Triangle Park. Nevertheless, North Carolina and the South continue to have some of the highest rates of HIV diagnoses.
Availability does not equal accessibility, and that is what this series is exploring. How do we make health, joy, accessible to our communities, to LGBTQI, two-spirit-plus communities and find ways of taking care of each other when we see that our community is so heavily under attack?
You do community work in Durham to spread awareness about HIV prevention to Spanish-speaking residents. What inspired you to target this community?
The Latinx community, the Spanish-speaking community, faces unique challenges. We have a lack of Spanish-speaking providers, a lack of hospitals that are culturally responsive. We see our community is also uninsured—most Latinx and Spanish-speaking folks don’t have a primary care provider, and many of us rely on our comrades, the corner store, or the corner pharmacy to get our health care. That shows that we depend on our community to take care of each other, and so this series is trying to shine a light on some of the ways we’ve been able to do that.
How has COVID-19 impacted the way you do outreach and community activism?
The COVID-19 epidemic has changed some of the ways we’ve been able to show up for our community by creating other opportunities to not only keep providers around sexual health but actually exposing how HIV- and AIDS-related work needs more resources. I was working for a CDC contract, and many of the staff working on sexual health and HIV have transferred to COVID, and so there was a lower number of bodies available to do this work. In North Carolina we see community members doing new, amazing things like drive-through testing, where people can get tested in their cars for HIV and COVID on the same go. So we’ve seen people really trying to bring these health issues together. But, you know, the stigma is very real, and the stigma continues to shape how our community is able to show up.
Blind Angels also highlights how minorities often bear the brunt when it comes to unequal access to HIV resources. Why do you think this is?
The way funding for HIV is distributed is based on epidemiology—it’s just numbers and diagnoses. But sometimes, that doesn’t actually display the needs of community members. And minority communities tend to face the brunt of this—the funding isn’t there for organizations led by nonwhite folks, and there’s a lack of trust sometimes. We also know that there are other structural factors like hospital closures shaping the epidemic. There’s also anti-immigrant sentiment that comes up and many Black and brown folks, working-class folks, don’t have private health care. That creates a cycle where people aren’t able to thrive in the way they should.
Where can people watch the docuseries?
It’s available at cnn.com/blindangels, and you’ll see episodes from across the South. Something that I always like to name when I’m sharing this is that you’ll see episodes of so many different types of people living with HIV. One of my friends is in the fourth episode, and she was born living with HIV. She recently had her first baby, who was not born with HIV. And I think that is just a reflection of the hope and the promise that comes with days like Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
What are some ways local people in the Triangle can get involved in spreading awareness about HIV?
I would encourage people to get involved with the LGBTQ center of Durham, where I am proud to be a board member and do community outreach, public health education, and we are ready to help folks get plugged into community organizing work. In general, I would say to anyone to find your political home, find people that you can organize with, and get tested, because getting tested doesn’t have to be scary. I want to remind people that this is a movement rooted in joy. That’s what I would like to offer.
Click here to watch “Blind Angels” on CNN.com.
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