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Let Trans People Lead

Emmett Patterson is the CBA specialist for the AIDS United Getting to Zero program. He lives to talk about LGBTQ health access and sexual health; in fact, he never stops talking about it! He recently facilitated conversations at the Trans Think Tank, convened by AIDS United, that resulted in the consensus statement, Stepping Up: Best Practices in providing HIV Medical Care, Support Services, and Funding to Trans Communities.

We caught up with Emmett to learn more about his experience at the Trans Think Tank, the consensus statement, and his passion for trans and health justice.

Tell me a little about yourself and how you got involved in this work.

This work is multifold for me. I currently work at an organization centered around HIV, but this work intersects with so many other justice movements that I am a part of or affected by. So when you say “this work” I am thinking about the intersection of trans justice work and the broader health justice movement.

I am brought to the work by necessity. This work is about survival. Often, when people ask why I am involved in health work, specifically for trans people, it’s because no one else is doing it for us. Trans people educate their own providers, in turn becoming experts on their own health. When I was coming out, no one really knew how to provide care to trans people, especially in the area where I was living. I would have to tell providers how to take care of me as a patient and as a client. That was a lot of work on my end. I’m still waiting on my honorary medical degree!

The caveat here is that I love what I do, particularly because it demonstrates the power that people have to be their own best advocate.

You facilitated in the Trans Think Tank in December that led to the development of the Trans Consensus Statement. What was it like to participate in those conversations?

I was overwhelmed at the thoughtfulness and expertise in the room. Many of my “movement crushes” – people who I really admire in the movement – really impacted me.

These are people who do this work within dynamic intersections. We had folks in the room who work with immigrants and first-generation people, who work with youth, who do body work with trans people, who work within policy and legal arenas, and providers and community leaders. There was such dynamic expertise in the room. There’s no one way to do trans HIV work. This group of people and the resulting statement really demonstrate that.

When there’s a space created for people who hold marginalized identities, there’s a veil that’s lifted where you don’t have to take care of the feelings of other people. In this case, having cisgender people in the room might have changed the dynamic. The fact that everyone in the room identified within this community demonstrated how empowering it is being able to just say what you need to say and hold space for challenging conversations that may not come up otherwise.

What were some of the major themes or ideas that arose from the Think Tank?

The biggest one – and it’s not surprising to me – is let trans people lead the conversation about our own lives. How are trans people actually informing the decision making? How are trans people embedded into the organization as key decision makers? An accompanying point is compensating and supporting people for doing the work. How are trans people compensated for their thoughts and expertise? Our personal experiences and our resulting expertise are often not valued in the same way as an educational degree. Often, trans people who hold multiple marginalized identities, particularly trans people of color, are compensated for their work – if at all – as a one off. “Here’s a stipend, thanks for your input.” Instead, trans people should be placed in and supported by an organization to drive the organization forward in a way that is affirming and welcoming to trans clients.

One other key idea that came out of the Think Tank is that organizations should assess why they are trying to reach trans communities. Ask the questions why are we doing this and why now? Often, especially in terms of funding, people in power start to notice trends that trans people have been noticing and experiencing for years. So you have trans folks who have been doing the work for so long not being included in funding opportunities to actually get compensation for the work they’ve been doing. It all comes down to leveraging power, providing compensation, offering support, and having trans people lead. This is what we’re asking for – and we’re doing anyway, whether you know it or not. It’s not surprising that everyone came together to outline these core steps that providers and funders can take to better support us in the work we are already doing.

How do you hope that organizations use the consensus statement?

This is not a resource to read just once. This is something you can adapt and embed within your own organization’s policies and practices. This consensus statement provides actionable items to organizations. The consensus statement is a staffing resource, program planning resource, a budgeting resource, a visioning and strategic planning resource. It is so multipurpose; every section is important. Even if you are a funder, I encourage you to read beyond the funder section. There are lessons to learn throughout the whole resource for working with trans people in a variety of ways.

Do you have suggestions for organizations as they use the consensus statement?

Listen to trans people and be open to criticism and feedback. Don’t take criticism personally; rather, use it as something to motivate you forward. You are going to make mistakes, but being open to listening to trans people and then being willing to do the work moving forward is key.

Trans people aren’t a monolith; we are a dynamic community affected by issues beyond our gender identity or HIV status. While this consensus statement is specific to trans communities, it opens the door to explore how organizations can be more open, aware, and supportive of the many different clients that they work with day in and day out.

For assistance getting started, organizations can reach out to the AIDS United Getting to Zero capacity building team, which I am a part of. We can help you adapt this tool and provide other technical assistance to better serve trans clients.

How do you stay motivated in this work?

I think there will always be a motivator that says no one else is going to do this for you, so do it. But if the Trans Think Tank taught me anything, it is that this community has incredible power. Knowing that I’m part of a much bigger community than myself is what keeps me going. It’s not just me as a teenager in my local clinic in Pennsylvania trying to advocate for my health care. Rather, I’m part of a powerfully resilient community who has long stepped up to tackle the structural barriers that trans people face to living their best lives. I would not be sustained in this work if it wasn’t for the countless other trans people taking action to make this world more livable one step at a time.

New Resource!

Stepping Up: Best Practices in Providing HIV Medical Care, Support Services, and Funding to Trans Communities - A Consensus Statement by Trans Leaders

This consensus document is intended to assist clinical providers, funders, and social service providers in strengthening their understanding of how to provide the best HIV clinical care environment, social services, and funding support possible for transgender communities.

This document is separated into three categories of recommendations for best practices: trans-informed funding, trans-informed health care, and trans-informed social services. These recommendations provide specific, measurable steps organizations can take to improve their approach to HIV work in trans communities.

Download this free resource here!

Posted By: Sarah Hashmall, Communications Manager - Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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