The seventh annual Youth Summit and 22nd annual Community Summit occurred during an unprecedented time. Due to national stay-at-home orders to help slow the spread of Coronavirus, the Summits were held virtually for the first time ever.
The global COVID-19 pandemic and national socio-political climate forced ViiV Healthcare to rethink our approach to community building. The resulting event and theme - Constellations of Change - reflects ViiV’s commitment to fostering an active, engaged and resilient global community of HIV advocates. We were challenged to completely change our ways of living and working and yet we remained connected by creating a constellation of support throughout the year through our virtual networks and events that culminated in our first-ever virtual summits.
Event forum aside, we knew this year’s Summits needed to feel different. The need for safety and support was paramount with so much uncertainty impacting society, but the federal public health response to COVID-19 called for an even more transparent discussion around barriers to care for people living with and affected by HIV. The urgency among certain groups to receive equitable HIV care and support pushed us to expand our focus to sensitive topics we don’t often discuss. We turned to new, secure technology to create a space where participants could feel comfortable being seen and sharing their personal experiences living as and working with people living with HIV and AIDS. Creating a space rooted in safety, support and celebration made it easier for our Youth and Community cohorts to dig deep into solutions for areas where the community is most at risk. Some of our noteworthy sessions included:
- HIV-related stigma remained a key barrier to getting people engaged in care. Our session on Fighting Crystal Meth in Our Communities focused on decreasing the stigma around crystal meth addiction among people living with HIV to better address the socio-economic factors that can lead to drug addiction and dependency.
- Similarly, a session on Sex Work: Stigma, Decriminalization and Surviving the COVID Crisis uncovered the ways in which COVID-19 is impacting an already vulnerable and severely marginalized group. Participants discussed discrimination often faced by sex workers, especially those of the Trans experience, and how fear of mistreatment, abuse and harsher criminal punishment can affect disclosure of HIV status among sex workers.
- Our session on Access to Care: Supporting HIV Positive Migrants & Refugees explored the importance of understanding and acknowledging the pre-migration journey when offering health services and support. Acknowledging the diversity of experiences that precede migration can help highlight authentic identity as opposed to homogenous stereotypes that often discourage people living with HIV from engaging with the healthcare system.
- A session on Where is the T? Engaging and Including Trans Community in 2021 and Beyond continued to take a more comprehensive look at the Trans experience to better understand resources that can help keep this community mentally, physically and emotionally safe. Understanding what it means to be of the Trans experience is key to creating programs to help this community live their most authentic lives. An incessant focus on heteronormative gender identity distracts from more urgent challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on key resources.
- A session on New Frontiers Affecting Our Community: Molecular HIV Surveillance and Medical Privacy explored gaps in the current public health approach to contact tracing that leave people living with HIV in fear of status exposure. While molecular surveillance can help identify and respond to HIV transmission clusters, there are gaps in what happens to those affected after a cluster is identified. Participants explored ways public health officials can partner with community to not only protect the privacy of those affected, but also develop initiatives to rapidly respond to the cause of transmission and link those affected to care.
Stigma, identity and innovation were key overarching themes from this year’s summits, but young people living with HIV often experience their own set of challenges with HIV diagnosis, treatment and managing the disease. Our Youth Summit explored how an HIV diagnosis can further complicate the experiences of a group already navigating age and sexuality.
- With an increasingly visible and diversified transgender community, the need for cisgender and other allies to understand the sociopolitical and cultural context of living as a person of Trans experience—and how this directly impacts the physical and mental health of trans folx—is critical. Through a session on Understanding and Supporting Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Colleagues and Clients, Youth Summit participants increased their knowledge of trans terminology and information through experiential activities and identified their own personal biases and values in order to create more inclusive environments.
Finally, our Cabaret for the HIV Movement celebrated the community’s resilience through performances and conversations with artists, performers and culture creators all working to showcase the beauty and diversity of the HIV community.
Reflecting on this year’s Youth and Community Summits, we are inspired by the innovation and bravery the community shows to navigate the nuances of living with HIV during an already challenging time. This year’s Youth and Community Summits mark the next step in working together as advocates to end the HIV epidemic. As we look to the future, we are reminded that the only way to end HIV once and for all is to leave no person living with HIV behind.
We are here until HIV isn’t.