Shawn Demmons, MPH, Bridge HIV CRS CAG Member, HVTN Global Community Advisory Board Representative to the Transgender Working Group; Capacity Building and Assistance Provider, UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health
San Francisco, CA, USA
When the HIV/AIDS crisis emerged in the early 1980s, there was little education available about the disease except that death was certain and imminent if you acquired the virus. In the early 1990s, that’s exactly what started happening to the guys in my circle of friends. It really hit home for me when my good friend Emmett, seemingly out of nowhere, died from AIDS-related complications. Stigma and shame prevented Emmett from telling any of us he was sick or letting us support him. A few years after his death, I attended a conference where I learned about HIV treatment. This motivated me to become an HIV treatment advocate. Unfortunately, by then Tweety had died, Kevin and Derrick were very sick, and my other gay friends remained at risk. That was the impetus for my work in HIV treatment and prevention. Throughout my career I’ve worked with people affected by and living with HIV in various capacities.
In 2017, I was recruited to join the Bridge HIV Community Advisory Group (CAG). As a Black trans man and a public health professional, I know the importance of including the voices of marginalized communities in research. Transgender people are grossly underrepresented in research across illnesses, and it’s important to me that this change. Sharing my expertise in trans health and community organizing to inform HVTN research studies is one way toward that end. I believe the first step to inclusion of trans people in research is education. As a CAG member, I’ve had the opportunity to participate on panels, present at community forums, and provide technical assistance to research scientists about the HIV prevention needs of transgender people. But my absolute favorite thing about being a CAG member is being able to share accurate up-to-date information about things like PrEP and U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable) with ordinary people in everyday situations.