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Asians, Pacific Islanders & HIV: Building Leadership

I recently went to a conference in DC about women advocating for HIV services, prevention programs, and awareness campaigns for their communities. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, of the 40+ women that attended the conference there was only one Asian woman ­­– me—and one Pacific Islander. This is shocking to me as I’ve recently learned that Asian & Pacific Islander men and women (across all sexual orientations) have the highest percentage increase in new HIV infections—higher than any racial or ethnic group in the country. How often do you hear that statistic? And yet, it’s true.

The disparity in the room spoke volumes about the lack of focus and funding for services targeting all Asian & Pacific Islanders, but it also made clear to me the lack of A&PI female leaders willing to speak up about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. In order to stop the growing rates of infection among A&PI women, more women must start to talk about the risks of HIV.

While I would love to see more female leaders—such as Naina Khanna the Director of Policy and Community Organizing at Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease—at the national level, it is just as important to have people closer to home; so many of us can be leaders in our communities, to our family and friends.

To be a leader, to stand up and stop the skyrocketing rates of HIV infection among women of color, is fundamentally vital and courageous—but it’s also incredibly simple. As part of the Asian Pacific Americans for Progress community, we all feel comfortable standing against injustice and widespread inequality (even in even in front of the media), but I encourage you to have personal discussions with the women in your life. Start conversations about your lifestyle and possible risky behavior. You could get tested for HIV—or even take your best friend, sister, mom, or aunt with you. I am certain that your leadership will inspire your friends and family, making everyone safer and smarter.

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