This Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, meet 10 leaders in the fight to #StopHIVTogether

Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day offers an important reminder for us that the work to stop HIV must involve cultivating the leadership of communities in the South to stop HIV together.

The South is the epicenter of the national HIV epidemic. Black communities in the South are disproportionately impacted by HIV — and now the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. Responding to these crises must involve building the capacity of leaders in these communities.

To learn more about what this kind of collaborative action looks like on the ground, AIDS United is proud to introduce our third cohort of the Southern HIV Impact Fund Leadership Development Program.

This initiative trains 10 leaders in the South to respond to the unique impacts of the epidemic on the region and supports the long-term sustainability of the leaders themselves, their organizations and the HIV movement.

We asked each of these leaders to share how the South has defined or influenced their activism.

This is what they had to say.

“The South has taught me many lessons about resilience. Being able to witness the resiliency that communities in the South embody has defined my activism and the way I navigate the world.”

— Taylor Walls, Western North Carolina AIDS Project
Asheville, North Carolina
Pronouns: She, her, hers 

“While the El Paso, TX-Ciudad Juárez, CHIH border region sits at the west-most part of the southern region in the U.S., our border community continues to be disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. My community has definitely shaped my public health work and advocacy by allowing me to be their voice in different platforms.”

— Gilbert Perez, Alliance of Border Collaboratives
El Paso, Texas
Pronouns: He, him, his, él

“I was born on the road in a town with no hospital, so you could say I’ve always been on the move for health care. But, it was in the South that I learned that those living with HIV can indeed love each other and build pleasure in the wake of laws and policies designed to incarcerate or dispose of us. I owe the South everything, not only because my parents are from the Global South or because the first antiretrovirals were invented here, but because Southern, queer,  Black women trusted me to do better, to know better and to be better. As more of my immigrant kindred turn or return to the South facing some of the highest rates of eviction, hospital closures and stigma, the South teaches me every day about abundance and healing in a heartfelt way.”

— José Romero, Latino Commission on AIDS
Durham, North Carolina
Pronouns: They, Them, Theirs OR He, him, his, él

“Being Black and trans in the Deep South, I know struggle firsthand. I’ve experienced discrimination for being Black. I’ve been fired for deciding to transition. I grew up poor and I know what it means to be without. I know what it’s like to have to create my own resources. I’ve had to constantly fight for resources and respect for folks who are Black, trans and low-income. All of these experiences give me the strength to keep fighting for a community that constantly gets overlooked and under-resourced.”

— Quentin Bell, The Knights & Orchids Society Inc.
Selma, Alabama
Pronouns: He, him, his 

“My analysis and work is and always has been rooted in the South. We have more barriers in nearly every aspect of life in the South — from access to affirming health care, to resources, to the ability to move through public space safely because our culture here is steeped in conservative religious ideas about who we are and what we deserve. Something else happens when you have to truly depend on each other for your survival. Our community becomes a true family in ways I don’t think people who live in other parts of the country will ever fully understand.”

— Ivy Hill, Gender Benders
Piedmont, South Carolina
Pronouns: They, them, theirs OR ze, hir, hirs 

“The South is where I was born and live. I have lived in North Carolina most of my life, so to think I have not been affected by Southern politics and ideology would be insane. I have mostly seen and experienced the damage and harm that comes from conservative Christian ideology and right-wing politics. I have two biracial girls and raised them here in the South. Through raising them and living with their father until he died of cancer, I was exposed to hatred and discrimination I did not grow up seeing or even understand existed. My mental illness, my drug use, my status as a felon, having a Black husband, biracial children — and now experiencing a major physical disability has slowly pulled back the layers of privilege which shaped my understanding of the world for many years. I have seen the hate and experienced enough discrimination that I feel compelled to spend my life fighting to change this world. The South must change.”

— Louise Vincent, NC Survivors Union
Greensboro, North Carolina
Pronouns: She, her, hers 

“As a small child, prominent racism was openly and directly shown to me growing up in the South. Those experiences have greatly influenced my activism, as it exposed me to discrimination at an early age. And I quickly learned that any identity in contrast to being a white, heterosexual male was definitively to be treated as second class. As a Black transgender man, my activism is fueled by the thousands of Black and trans ancestors in the South who spent their life fighting and suffering for my liberation.”

— Carter Brown, Black Trans Advocacy Coalition / Black Transmen Inc.
Dallas, Texas
Pronouns: He, him, his 

“Living in and experiencing the South ignited my activism and desire to effectuate change.”

— Linda Dixon, Mississippi Center for Justice
Jackson, Mississippi
Pronouns: She, her, hers 

“As a transplant to the South from the intermountain region of the United States five years ago, I felt it essential to sit on the sidelines and observe the social and political landscape of New Orleans and Louisiana. What I observed was the necessity to learn cultural humility and to gain more skills and tools in order to be able to advocate for and demand access to health care and basic civil and human rights services for marginalized communities. After a period of time I felt I was ready to proactively engage and get involved in advocacy efforts to make a difference in the lives of the community members most impacted by injustices on so many levels. Change has not come easy, but nevertheless the activism struggle continues.”

— Penny DeNoble, Frontline Legal Services
New Orleans, Louisiana
Pronouns: She, her, hers 

“The geopolitical context of being raised in and doing the work in the South colors every aspect of my life. I am deeply grateful for the rich legacy of Southern influences who laid the groundwork for the work we do nation and worldwide. I believe that Southern organizers created a great deal of the blueprint for how we do the work both internally and externally.”

— Carter, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW!
Atlanta, Georgia
Pronouns: They, them, theirs OR she, her, hers