The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented human crisis that is claiming lives, destroying livelihoods and disrupting economies across the world. With the support of UNAIDS and Aidsfonds, the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) and Youth LEAD have worked together to increase the visibility and voices of trans and gender diverse youth leaders throughout Asia and the Pacific.
This is the seventh in a series of feature stories about trans youth leaders and the strength they show amidst the challenges of COVID-19. Read the other posts in the series here: APTN x YouthLEAD’s Dignity Amidst COVID-19: Stories of Trans Youth Leaders
Maya, a young trans woman living with HIV, using her personal story to advocate and support her community in India
I am Maya, a 27-year-old transgender woman and a trans youth leader activist for people living with HIV. I have been living in Delhi for the past ten years. As a young trans leader, I have been actively seeking equal opportunities and access to medical assistance and fundamental rights among the trans youth community living with HIV. I want to raise my voice and provide my community with awareness on HIV prevention and treatment but at the same time, fight discrimination and stigma against young trans people.
My story as a young trans woman living with HIV hasn’t been particularly easy. Since I was a child, life has put me through challenging situations. I didn’t enjoy the same benefits as other children and never had access to education. However, after facing so much injustice and difficulties, I still believe in fighting for my rights and my survival. When I was 16 years old, I decided to move to Delhi to look for a better life and opportunities because of the rejection and discrimination from my family. In the beginning, I was begging on the streets and working as a sex worker. That time, I felt welcomed and accepted by a community of other young trans women who later became my family and support in life. After feeling unwell for a couple of months, I decided to visit the doctor and realised that I was HIV positive. I tried to go back home to my family, but they didn’t accept me. The rejection and discrimination from my family were tough for me to understand. However, nowadays, and after many years, I can finally say that I have learned to value, appreciate and accept myself as I am. I am grateful and happy to know that my family is doing well, but I have decided to walk my path and have found a second supportive family of friends who love me and accept me for who I am.
This experience has strongly impacted my life because after putting my life at risk, I learned to appreciate my life and protect myself. Through the support of Basera Samajik Sansthan, an organisation that supports and empowers trans people in India, I have learned how to take care of myself. Through the support of the organisation, I have also been able to access HIV treatment and take care of my health.
My personal experience and the challenges that I have been through have inspired me to prevent others from going through the same suffering. As a young leader for my community, I want to protect other trans people and enable them to have a dignified life. Making use of the broad network that I have developed through the past years, I’ve been providing my community in urban and rural areas with STI and HIV awareness and prevention information. Working as a staff member for skills development at the Basera Samajik Sansthan, I have contributed to facilitate HIV treatment to young trans people living with HIV and provide various training to develop their skills in different areas, and in this way give them access to other forms of ensuring their survival. I believe that the most valuable contribution that I have to give to my community is the moral and mental support for those who are in the process of accepting their HIV status. Through my work, I make sure that they can have the necessary support and guidance to keep moving on with their lives and prevent depression.
Young transgender activists leading the response to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the worst epidemics in the country. Despite a strong response at the outset of the pandemic, India has the world’s fastest-growing outbreak of COVID-19 in absolute numbers according to WHO, reporting more than 5·6 million infections. While the country is struggling to get its public health management on board, only the privileged are able to access healthcare facilities amidst this global pandemic. The trans community faces susceptibility to infections, weaker immune systems and lack of insurance. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been wholly destabilised. Today, a large number of my friends are putting their lives at risk, exposing themselves as sex workers and begging on the streets to access financial resources and provide for their families. The majority of us have been forced to leave our homes because we couldn’t afford our rent and are left in the streets and exposed to the deadly virus.
During this period, I have been struggling a lot with my health; the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible for me to access my HIV treatment since most of the health centres don’t have the necessary resources to take care of their HIV clients. Most recently, I wasn’t feeling well, having a cold, cough, body aches and fever. Basara Samajik Sansthan took me to the hospital, and after running a COVID-19 test, I was diagnosed positive for COVID-19. I felt fragile and hopeless, but through the support of my community and closest friends, I have overcome this difficulty, and I am ready to help other young trans women going through the same situation. We have been able to grow and face the COVID-19 pandemic as a family. These difficult times have brought our community closer; some of us are sharing our rooms, distributing food and medicine with others. When I got sick, my friends were taking care of me, providing me with food and medicine.
Basara Samajik Sansthan has been supporting and taking care of my community. Through their peer support programme, they have been distributing hand sanitizers and masks, but also giving access to free HIV and COVID-19 testing, which is supported by APTN through its Aidsfonds COVID-19 response fund. Basera Samajik Sansthan’s work has been to contribute to young trans people’s mental health to overcome the difficulties of the pandemic. Their counselling programme, yoga and meditation sessions, have created a space for us to speak out our fears and questions, but also a space to receive support, cheering us up, growing our confidence and reminding us that we are not alone in this process. Basera Samajik Sansthan was able to develop a small campaign in collaboration with a private health centre and provided 35 people with free HIV and COVID-19 testing in India. Solidarity has driven our actions and has also allowed us to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For all the young trans people living with HIV, please love and accept yourselves; you are in this world to contribute to your community and our society. During this pandemic, stay aware and protect and support your community; remember that together, we are stronger.