Highlights from the 23rd Annual United States Conference on AIDS – Kneeshe Parkinson

On September 5th, hundreds of people gathered for the 23rd Annual United States Conference on AIDS (USCA). Themed ‘Ending the Epidemics in Their Memory’, the conference featured four days of engaging content centered on the federal plan to end the HIV epidemic. People living with HIV, health departments and providers, community organizations, activists, and more gathered to honor those lost to the epidemic by dialoguing and problem-solving about how to end the HIV epidemic for the sake of those still impacted. Kneeshe Parkinson, an HIV scholar with NMAC, a Policy Fellow with the Positive Women’s Network, and a member of the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition, was present for the transformative experience.

The USCA conference in Washington, D.C., was an opportunity to build more support from other key leaders and to participate in so many different workshops. It also proved to be a time to tackle much-needed questions.

The opening plenary lunch, entitled ‘Making it Real: The Federal Plan to End the Epidemic in America,’ was moderated by Joy Reid, an acclaimed author, editor, columnist, and political analyst on MSNBC. Representatives from organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Indian Health Service were joined by a panel of community members to dialogue about the best ways to reach impacted populations.

Kneeshe, participating as a community member and content expert for Black and Latina women, engaged the audience on an important perspective. Kneeshe’s question was: “How can we reach women, particularly black women living with HIV?”One out of five new infections are women, 20 percent of which are women of color.

Kneeshe said,“As I’ve shared in many spaces, I am a black woman who has been living with HIV for 22 years and I am working hard to remove the barriers of stigma in the black community for women. You can’t do this work without us. Having more available social media platforms that represent women of color is a way to help our community, along with more funding in rural areas to help with transportation and other health-related disparities.”

Kneeshe’s response is pertinent to our home state. In Missouri, while Black and Latino men still experience the highest rates of HIV, black women have experienced the highest increase in new cases compared to all other groups. Our state has also seen the highest rates of new HIV cases in the more rural regions of Missouri that have less access to care and services.  

The theme of supporting women living with HIV was brought into focus again for Kneeshe, this time in collaboration with her peers. “One of the major highlights for me was that they included my team of four women, CRI Purple, and we presented a workshop called ‘Removing the Bandages: Learning from the Dual Identities of Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence and Women Living with HIV.’ This workshop allowed the audience to consider the impact that intimate partner violence has on women’s ability to safely disclose their HIV status and the impact that HIV criminalization has on women’s efforts to leave violent domestic situations. Those attending  witnessed and learned from the testimonials of survival from the perspective of four women living with HIV. They were able to understand the statistics and research on the impact of intimate partner and domestic violence on women living with HIV. Together we considered strategies and resources for empowering women with HIV.” 

“There is so much to continue to talk about that I could go on for days, weeks, and months about the experiences of USCA. I still get goosebumps when I talk about these opportunities. I really couldn’t envision what the opportunity would look like when I received the acceptance letter to be a part of the conference. To see everything unfold, it was a rainbow of love in the room 100% of the time. To listen to people’s recommendations and information and giving back was very rewarding. They crocheted us all together in one special place with harmony and strength to end the epidemic together. That chain cannot be broken. That’s what you saw the whole way through.”

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