Maddalynn Sesepasara is Breaking Down Barriers for Trans Women of Color in Hawaii

Maddalynn Sesepasara is helping other transgender women of color to thrive. She serves as program coordinator at Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center in Honolulu. The organization works to provide services and support those living with or affected by HIV, hepatitis, substance use, as well as LGBTQ and Native Hawaiian communities.

Sesepasara is a part of AIDS United’s first-ever cohort of the Fund for Resilience, Equity and Engagement and the Transgender Leadership Initiative Leadership Development Program. These leaders were chosen through AIDS United’s grantee partner organizations as representatives of transgender and gender-nonconforming people and Black gay, bisexual, queer and same-gender-loving men — populations in our communities most disproportionately impacted by HIV.

We caught up with Sesepasara to learn more about her story and how she works to mobilize her community to stop HIV together.

How did you get into this field? 

How I got into this work was through another outreach worker who thought I would be great at helping trans women; she was right. Ever since, I’ve been doing this work for about 20 years now.

How do we start to reduce the barriers preventing transgender women of color from accessing care?  

Surviving can be a barrier in and of itself for trans women of color. Most trans women of color don’t have time to worry about things because they are more focused keeping their electricity on, a roof over their head and trying to survive. We can provide incentives for them making their appointments such as offering resources and programs that can help lower their rent, food, electric bill, water bill, etc.

Additionally, things like transportation can be a barrier for trans people living in rural areas who have a difficult time accessing services or not being able to afford it. Appointments are too far, and they can’t afford the gas to travel there. We can provide them with bus vouchers, ride-sharing or gas coupons so they can access these services — which can help reduce this barrier.

On top of all this, low self-esteem can hinder a trans woman of color from accessing service, especially if they are in the early stages of transitioning. We can offer support and go to appointments with them, in addition to advocating for them making sure they are receiving the best service they deserve.

What are some of the challenges preventing trans women of color from being in executive leadership roles? What are some of the solutions to addressing those challenges? 

These challenges include fear of letting people down, thinking they are not good enough or being worried what others will think if a trans women of color messes up.

We can address this challenge by empowering trans women of color with access to leadership trainings and programs like the Holistic Empowerment Institute to help build and strengthen their leadership skills. We can support them in possibly even going back to school to help further their role or career.