IASONEVOICE: THEN AND NOW SERIES
Diagnosed with HIV at age 26
Country of residence: India
Occupation: Senior programme officer, India HIV/AIDS Alliance
Take us back to when you first learned you were living with HIV. What did it mean back then and what does it mean today?
“You have AIDS,” a counsellor said to me in 2008. The counsellor spoke to me for more than 20 minutes, but I remembered just that one sentence: “You have AIDS.” Only one thing came to my mind: everything is finished. I was a sex worker on the streets of Mumbai when I first learned about my HIV status. I had been an “HIV navigator”, a peer outreach worker, for almost eight years then. At the time, the traditional sources of income for transgender women in India were to beg, dance, sing and engage in sex work. Luckily, this changed after the Supreme Court officially recognized transgender women in April 2014.
Today, I am working with India HIV/AIDS Alliance as a senior programme officer for sexuality, gender and rights, a position I have held since November 2010.
Have you ever encountered any HIV-related stigma? Has this changed over the years?
In addition to the stigma of being a person living with HIV, there is a lot of stigma against transgender people. People like me, who are both a transgender person and living with HIV, are facing double discrimination. This is why, to me, every day means stigmatization.
Looking back, what has been the one key lesson that living with HIV has taught you?
The stigma I encountered has made me a strong advocate who stands up for the rights of my peers and other people living with HIV.
What role does HIV play in your daily life?
Today, I can proudly say that living with HIV has led me to become a mediator, an activist and an agent of positive change. Living with HIV and being a transgender person has kept me going all these years and I am proud of it.