Sybastian Smith – Organizer, decision maker and advocate for transgender HIV+ healthcare
“If we don’t care for our most marginalized communities, we’re no stronger than our weakest member,” says Sybastian Smith.
As a National Organizer at the National Center for Transgender Equality, executive director of the I Am Human foundation, and a board member of several community-based organizations, Sybastian Smith has a lot on his plate. But everything he does advocates for the transgender community.
“I’m trying to be a voice for healthcare and HIV as it relates to transmasculine folks,” he says.
With many states pushing for anti-trans legislation, it’s important for trans people to know where to go for HIV care.
Sybastian shares his advice for reaching these underrepresented, and often forgotten audiences.
HIV and the Trans Community
It’s impossible to separate HIV awareness from the LGBTQ+ community. Lesbians and queer women cared for the gay and bisexual men affected at the height of the epidemic. Famous drag queens like Lady Bunny and RuPaul raised money for their community through this art form.
These intersecting communities are undeniably linked, yet transgender people are excluded from research, awareness, and history.
Language around the HIV/AIDS epidemic treat it as a distant past. The epidemic may have ended in 1995, but infection rates for trans women, and women of color, remain at epidemic levels. Messaging geared towards transmasculine, or non-binary people is nearly non-existent.
“We need to realize that there’s an overlap of people who are assigned male at birth, those who are male and have sex with men, and those who transitioned into trans women,” says Sybastian.
Representing and speaking to all identities
Sybastian believes HIV awareness focuses on equality, but not enough on equity.
“The structures I need as a black transmasculine person are different from those of a trans woman,” he says.
Transgender folks are a diverse group. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to addressing the transgender community.
“We can’t make assumptions about what these communities need in regard to HIV care,” says Sybastian. “We need to ask them directly, or have those voices provide education and talk about their experiences.”
Sybastian tells the Take Control HIV community that the biggest stigma with HIV and the transgender community is assuming that trans men, transmasculine people, and non-binary individuals aren’t at risk.
“Putting a name and a face to stories for audiences to see themselves is where we should focus our immediate attention.”
Finding inclusive HIV care
Many states are passing anti-transgender legislation and denying transgender people access to healthcare.
However, Pennsylvania is an active transgender community, and there are many community-based organizations to find support. Even a quick Google search will pull several results to help you get started, suggests Sybastian.
“The best way to tackle trans issues is to get together as a community, working in unity to ensure the trans community doesn’t get left behind.”
Stories like Sybastian’s help the Take Control HIV community give a voice to underrepresented groups.
Take Control HIV is focused on building our community. We want to ensure all people have access to HIV testing, care, and treatment. Fill out our linkage to care form, and we’ll get you connected in 72 hours to comprehensive HIV care.
And if you, like Sybastian, want to share your story… send us an email, or follow us on social media!