is a rare occurrence, for a 21-year-old, to look around at an international
conference and realize that it is being entirely run by peers of the
same age. More than rare, it is inspiring. The Youth Pre-Conference,
organized and implemented by the Mexico Youth Force, is a bilingual
(English and Spanish) three-day preparation conference for young attendees
of the 2008 International AIDS Society Conference in Mexico City.
Our energy, enthusiasm, and passion for both fighting the global HIV/AIDS
epidemic and supporting those living with HIV and/or AIDS are nothing
short of incredible.
particular, during my first day, I attended a session on being a strong
ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities.
Not surprisingly, the room was not filled with heterosexual and cisgender
individuals ("cisgender" refers to those who have the same gender as their assigned sex) , but rather,
with young people that self-identified as sexual minorities from all
around the world. A young LGBTQ activist from Turkmenistan facilitated
the hour and a half allotted for the session, we spent the first 50
minutes simply discussing various terms to explain the expansive array
of sexual and gender identities that are different from heterosexual
and cisgender. We debated the meanings of transvestite, travesti,
transsexual, transgender, bisexual, pansexual, FTM (female-to-male),
MTF (male-to-female), homosexual, heterosexual . . . and many others.
In that discussion, however chaotic it may have seemed, we collectively
recognized the cultural determinants of sexual identity formation and
the social construction of marginalization. We noted that in many
countries with the worst HIV epidemics, being a sexual minority is not
a particularly easy identity to have in society, while in some it is
completely criminalized. We connected social marginalization with
vulnerability to HIV transmission and explored ways in which we, at
our own organizations, could respond to various scenarios involving
LGBTQ youth in need of support.
marginalization of sexual minorities is, to my knowledge, not what most
people would consider breaking news. However, I describe this
session in detail because it effectively illustrates the significance
and meaning of the youth pre-conference overall. While allying
with and between different youth communities can be challenging, when
young people are given the resources needed to have the opportunity
to collaborate with one another in deep discussion and analysis, incredibly
substantive conclusions can be drawn and we can educate one another
based on our experiences on how to overcome daunting sociopolitical
and bilingual, the pre-conference itself is also what some objective
observers (and participants) might describe as seemingly chaotic.
But judging by the incredible sessions, exchange of ideas, and networking,
we are preparing ourselves quite well for participation at one of the
largest international conferences in the world. We are sharing
with one another our successes and failures in advocating for better
policies and for better implementation of policies. We are
readying ourselves to fight the battle against HIV and AIDS as our generation
matures. Pretty empowering, no? I think so too.