2022 USCHA

What a wonderful joy it has been to attend the 2022 United States Conference on HIV and AIDS in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. I'm so grateful to NMAC for allowing me to attend on their HIV50+ Strong & Healthy Scholarship; I'm sure many applied. People come from all over the country to learn and network together. With over 3,000 in attendance, it's the largest conference in the United States on the subject matter, with informative workshops covering every topic and addressing the communities most impacted by this 40-year-old epidemic.

Conference center in Puerto Rico.

I was so happy that NMAC chose this location to hold our conference this year. It was actually chosen three years ago after the devastation of hurricane Maria. NMAC wanted to help the island by bringing our business here, but then COVID struck and all gatherings were put on hold for a while. But now, thanks to the miracle of science and the success of vaccines, we were able to finally meet again and do our small part to help Puerto Rico. The conference center and hotels were beautiful, but you could still see the poverty and some damage they're recovering from in town and around the island, like streetlights that didn't work, yet life seems to be continuing as normal. And the benefits were mutual because we gained as much from them. The plenaries were amazing, we learned about the beautiful, strong and resilient culture of the Puerto Rican people, we experienced the delicious local foods, witnessed the incredible sexy dances, and enjoyed the soulful music. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, I never felt uncomfortable.

A collage including performers on a large screen and a plate of food.   

The workshops were fantastic. My only complaint is that there were too many great topics, lol. Some time blocks had several workshops that I wanted to attend, but you can only be in so many places at once, so I hope one day perhaps the sessions could be recorded so you can see what you missed in the meetings you couldn't attend, hint hint NMAC, lol. During the years of isolation NMAC did USCHA virtually and we had the ability to recall sessions, playback, pause and take notes, stop for a bathroom break, etc. I enjoyed it, but it just wasn't the same as meeting in person, there's so much more gained from meeting in person.

Katie Willingham with other USCHA conference attendees.

Then there was the exhibit hall with booths from many pharmaceutical companies, grassroots organizations, and various campaigns on display to show the work they do. This is a fantastic networking opportunity where I spoke with many people and I learned more about their organizations and/or campaigns.

Members of a panel at USCHA.

I even sat on a panel for the Surviving Voices documentary series sponsored by the National AIDS Memorial Foundation. These are powerful short films addressing various communities living with HIV and the impact of HIV on those communities. I was honored to be in the documentary about the transgender community and was so thrilled to join this panel of some powerhouse advocates on either side of me. You can look up these films at the AIDS Memorial website or on YouTube.

Katie Willingham and other members of Surviving Voices documentary panel.

Overall, I had a wonderful time and grew from the experience. If you ever get the opportunity to attend, I highly recommend it. I know I'll be back as long as NMAC will have me!!

Katie Willingham.

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Katie!!! So happy to share

kmartel's picture

Katie!!! So happy to share space with you again after so long, and so great to have so many from the TWP community in one place at one time! These memories will last a long time and carry me through when things get too busy/crazy! Love you! 

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