I would like to tell you about a very special conference to me; it's called Positive Living and it's hosted by an organization called Oasis Florida. I've been coming to this conference since 2015. I remember being invited by my ASO (AIDS Service Organization) where I received my treatment. I didn't know anything about HIV advocacy, I just wanted to go to Florida, lol. But meeting the people who come to this conference changed my life. I wanted to become an advocate like these amazing people, but I didn't know where to start. The next year, in 2016, I came back to Positive Living and this time I met a man, and an organization that would change my life forever.
First there was a pre-conference before Positive Living that year, which was hosted by Positive Women's Network – USA, an organization for and by women who lit a spark that quickly became a flame in my heart. I knew I had to become involved with this organization; I was just so inspired by these women, and as a girl who had only recently come out as a transgender woman, I felt seen, respected, accepted, and even loved.
Following this event was Positive Living, where I heard a man speaking in a workshop. Bruce Richman was teaching about U=U, which stands for Undetectable equals Untransmittable. U=U means that if you take your medications as prescribed, you can become undetectable, and therefore unable to transmit the virus to anyone, even through unprotected sexual contact. This was new knowledge to me that changed my life. Learning about U=U meant that I could have a serious and safe relationship with someone and not have to worry that I might transmit the virus to them. I didn't have to worry about accidents. There's such liberation and healing in that, liberation that I hadn't known in years, not since my diagnosis anyway.
Then there are all the advocates who host the conference like Butch McKay, who is an angel, and Kurt Goodman, the executive director of Oasis, who is always working, and all the advocates from all over who attend every year. I've been coming to this conference now for six or seven years. I missed a couple years because of COVID being rampant, but I come every year that I can. As someone unfamiliar with advocacy, this conference inspired me to get involved, and as a more seasoned advocate now, I still love this conference because it's right on the beach, lol. Not that I just come for the beach, but this is a great conference for seasoned advocates to rejuvenate and heal from another year of work, and that's so needed and necessary, because burnout is real.
I'm extremely grateful for the existence of this conference and all the work that goes into producing it, because this conference is special. It's special to me because it introduced me to advocacy and an amazing community of people who have been both friends and chosen family to me. This conference not only introduced me to other people who share my experience living with HIV for the first time, but it also showed me how they thrive with dignity, strength, and community. It's why I'm an advocate today. It literally changed my life. Perhaps without Positive Living I might still be sitting at home waiting to die, who knows? Now I work with five different HIV-related organizations.
It's also special because it's the only conference I know that allows advocates to really relax and have some fun, let their hair down and enjoy each other's company for a couple days, which is so healing and inspiring after a long year of work. I come back every year I can and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about HIV, HIV advocacy, and HIV prevention, or seasoned advocates who have never been. You've really gotta put it on your bucket list for next year. As I said, this conference is special, this is my Positive Living. Come join us sometime and see what it means to you. And if you see me there, give me a hug, we're all family here.