The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s vision is to build a culture of health to ensure the achievement of health equity. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – AIDS United Award for Health Equity honors those who have successfully implemented systems changes and promoted and highlighted solutions at the community level that lead to health equity.
This year, we’re pleased to recognize Shawn Fung-A-Ling, deputy director for I Am Human, for their work to break barriers to societal disparities in education, employment, health care and housing.
We caught up with Fung-A-Ling to learn more about his work.
I Am Human’s mission is to create safe spaces for individuals, and more than 2,500 lives have been impacted by the organization. Tell me what your role is and what you do to help fulfill the company’s mission and vision.
I started with the company as a volunteer while I was living in Los Angeles, California. I spent three years feeding and donating to the less fortunate in downtown Los Angeles, aka “Skid Row.”. After relocating to Atlanta, Georgia, I took on the Marketing and Branding Director role to help bring awareness to the company’s mission.
Shortly after that, I wanted to get involved on a more intimate level because of the stigmas many of my trans friends faced on a daily basis. As the Deputy Director, I began to strategize different programs that provide access for the community to essential support, while creating a safe space ONE HUMAN AT A TIME!
What are some of the ways you’ve seen stigma impact health equity in the community you serve and/or the work you do around that?
I believe there is a lack of health care for our trans community. Oftentimes they are stigmatized to feel they are not entitled to these services.
If we had more resources and options, they would be more receptive to seeking safer care. And it’s not just HIV care. It’s basic health care and other intersectional medical and essential support options that they fear accessing because of a lack of understanding, empathy, acceptance and abbreviated knowledge on how to effectively give quality care to folks who live within and beyond their transitions. So it forces trans and non-binary folks to receive care elsewhere and in a lot of instances in spaces that aren’t safe.
Tell us ways you’re combating stigma with health equity or creative new ways we must approach stigma.
We currently live in an era where social media is a perfect opportunity to market campaigns highlighting people of the trans experience. Implanting these branding opportunities to create a virtual audience to understand the struggles of stigmatization —.that has been one of my biggest professional and personal missions.
I learned about a lot of opportunities life-wise (i.e., condoms, PrEP, volunteer opportunities, scholarships, food sales, etc.) just from social media alone. If I can at least get information out there around my community in this same vein, the reach can be endless. One essential way I really use social media is that I partner with influencers who identify as trans or trans-allies in all my promotions.
You have provided training and opportunities that have led to trans women being hired in Fulton County as well as the policy being changed within organizations. What more can you tell us about these changes?
I believe every workplace should have a space for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Trans women should have an opportunity to display their talents and knowledge. Creating resume and interview workshops has allowed me to coach, develop and prepare them for a seat at the table — as well as presenting to companies to help them understand best practices in hiring individuals from the trans community. And it works within a space of duality.
I support educating employers on the considerations and cultural context of trans folk. I also try to inform (and be informed) folks on labor laws and how the intersections of gender work, which surprisingly need to be addressed. There are not a lot of labor laws that support trans and gender non-binary folks. For instance, being asked certain questions in an interview can be a bit tricky but there aren’t many legal ordinances or recommendations on how to engage people of trans experiences in those spaces. So I try at best to educate both sides on what to ask, how to respond and how far to go.
Talk to me about the importance of meaningful engagement with transgender communities in the South and what it looks like to be a community that has embraced our brothers and sisters who are trans.
Engagement is a vital part of any community, but especially the transgender community in the South because of the obstacles they face in health care, career and housing. Coming together as one whether it is a member of the community or an ally shows strength in numbers. All it takes is one person to say “I have your back” which demonstrates community and ally support, while opening doors to understanding.
The South is still a place with many racial stigmas and those undertones still sit at the helm of gender and sexuality stigma in the larger context. Embracing each other really is the key to taking more steps forward in all ways.