Friday, November 27, 2009

Youth Activism and HIV/AIDS or How I Blinked and Accidentally Became a Sexual Health Activist

I am an activist. I advocate for a lot of things. I am a youth activist, a queer activist, a Deaf activist, a mental health activist, in a weird way I guess you could even say I am a health in general activist too. One form of activism I've always respected but have always felt that I should be the last person on earth to talk about or take part in is sexual health/HIV/AIDS activism. There's lots of reasons, but I'm really not the one you want talking about sexual health. I just don't have the background for it.

So, tonight I went to the launch of "Empower. Youth, Arts and Activism: An HIV/AIDS Arts Activism Manual for Youth by Youth". I have to admit that I went in part because the project sounded cool, and I wanted to check it out, and see what I could take back to my own activism in it's many forms, but for the most part I went because one of the most awesome, kick ass women I know: Jessica Yee was presenting, and since she is so crazy busy catching her when she presents is the only way to ever get to see her.

So, the plan was to go, hang out, probably learn some new things, and see where it all wound up taking me. In reality, I had no idea what I was about to walk into. The project is awesome, and the night truly was amazing. There were all kinds of partner projects on display, videos, t-shirt designing, drag performances, food (always a plus), really you name it. I got the chance to talk to some really awesome people doing some really awesome projects. Apparently when my sister was doing her big research project on peer-education in sexual health linked with HIV/AIDS (I know I'm butchering what it is actually called, but it was on using peer-education models and harm reduction approaches while teaching sexual health education linked to HIV/AIDS) she was connecting and working with a lot of the people who were connected with this manual. So I walk into the room, hear some of the names of the people who put this thing together, and realize that I know these people, and they know me, by name even though we've never met. So, it was pretty cool to meet people who I've heard so much about these past couple of years, they seem pretty awesome.

Then we're moving towards the end part of the evening, I was talking with Jessica, and ended up being introduced to half of the youth workers in the room, which was pretty cool, and then the next thing I know I'm being asked a very loaded question by a slightly panicked looking project coordinator. "We're down one of our panelists for tonight and Jessica tells says that you would be amazing at it, is there any way you'd be willing to be on our panel?" After pointing out that I have no connection to HIV/AIDS activism, and I barely qualify for having done sexual health work (I was told that my work with TEACH definitely counted, but I remain firmly on the fence about that) I agreed. I got walked through the plan for the panel (we were the guests on a talk show discussing sexual health activism and work) and it seemed pretty awesome, lots of being interactive and fun and generally really cool.

So, I got to introduce myself and the work that I was doing, and I think I've decided that after doing 4 panels in the last 2-3 weeks I really need to find someone who can help me write up a proper biography for things like this, and the three of us got to have a facilitated conversation on activism and HIV/AIDS. It was actually pretty cool, I feel like I held my own. I was the youngest panel member, we were all ironically connected with Planned Parenthood in some way, and just got to really talk about youth engagement, and using adult allies, and how it's important to listen to youth and let them be the experts on themselves and speak for themselves. I also got to talk about the lack of sexual health resources for queer women out there and how there really is nothing, I think that transfolk are probably the only group who have less resources out there than we do in terms of sexual health. (Which might explain part of why I don't identify as a sexual health activist).

Then after the panel there were a whole bunch of students reporting on the event through video and photography and I don't even know what else, who wanted information and a couple of interviews, and so I talked even more about HIV/AIDS and some of the technical parts of it that I do know, so we'll see what comes of it. If any of it goes anywhere I will completely post about it here.

So, that's pretty much what happened. I went thinking it would be good times, and just a chance to catch up with a friend, and then the next thing I knew I blinked and became a sexual health activist. I seem to have activism thrown on me a lot lately. It's a good thing.

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