Positive Living 2022

After three long years of fearing to gather together, grinding all conferences and in-person events to a halt, condemning us all to a life of isolation and social distancing, at long last life has begun to creep back from the shadows of an epic epidemic, and none too soon. Oh I know the epidemic isn't completely over, but thanks to vaccines, the world is starting to look recognizable again.

It's been a long time since I've shared space with like-minded advocates, people who have been friends, mentors, and family to me for years. How I've long anticipated a simple hug from another human being and to be with the people who inspire me to keep going. So this year's Positive Living conference was much needed for me and I couldn't wait to get to Fort Walton Beach for some greatly needed congregation.

Positive Living is a special conference for me, because it introduced me to advocacy back in 2015 and it changed my life forever. In 2016, Positive Living had a pre-conference with the Positive Women's Network USA and meeting these amazing women shook me to my core, while that same year was the first year that Bruce Richman shared U=U with the world, and he started at Positive Living. These two events changed my world and created an advocate.

This year, another pre-conference was held by The Reunion Project and I was happy to attend. Mark Misrok of the National Working Positive Coalition talked about long term survival and employment, how earnings can affect benefits and more. We also heard from Greg Cassan.

It's always wonderful to see Butch McKay and Kurt Goodman of Oasis Florida at the registration desk - then you know you've really arrived at Positive Living. Positive Living isn't like most other conferences because it's a small conference which makes it more intimate and relaxing. Advocates still come to learn and network like other conferences, but here is where I go to rejuvenate myself, be reinspired in the presence of other advocates, and feel some sand between my toes; the sounds of rolling waves is always healing.

On Friday night at the opening plenary, the keynote address was a recorded conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, then the annual Martin Delaney Power of One Award was awarded to Dee Dee Chamblee of La Gender, Inc. from Atlanta, Georgia. I was very happy for her. The night wrapped up with a showing of a film from The AIDS Memorial Foundation called Surviving Voices: The Black Community & AIDS. It was fantastic. I was part of Surviving Voices: The Transgender Community and AIDS three years ago, so I was familiar with the project. Finally, the night wrapped up with a drag show from the Armorettes and a dance. I love the evening events at Positive Living, sometimes it's karaoke which is always fun.

The Saturday workshops ranged with a diversity of topics as they do every year, I think Oasis does a great job of trying to include all communities and have something for everyone. I always find workshops that are personal to me, but I also always attend workshops where I learn something new; both kinds of workshops are greatly beneficial. This year I attended a great workshop about writing to improve my writing skills, and I also attended a workshop on the health benefits of sound and meditation. But all of the workshops are usually so interesting that they're difficult to choose from.

That being said, I hope next year a little beach time could be worked into the agenda, at least a two hour block of time for everyone to just enjoy the beach together, because Positive Living isn't just a conference to learn and network for seasoned advocates, it's also a much needed retreat, as I said before, a place where advocates can rejuvenate and be reinspired by fellow advocates. I believe this is how Positive Living is so much different from other conferences; it's more relaxed and familiar, like a family reunion - a reunion that many of us need and look forward to every year.

But whether one is a veteran advocate or completely new to advocacy, Positive Living is a fantastic conference that I would highly recommend. I don't know if I should say this, but truth be known, it's my favorite conference and as long as I'm able, you'll find me there every year. Hope to see you there.

Headshot of Katie Willingham and logo for A Girl Like Me.

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