My time at HIVE has taught me a lot about social justice work and how to weave social justice into a professional career. When I think about HIVE, I think about how HIV work is innately activist work for its complex history ridden with homophobia, racism, and sexism. For this reason, finding that activist spark I want is not so difficult at HIVE. Although HIVE still works within a larger, more traditional medical institution, they are actively working towards uplifting marginalized communities. To read about how HIVE is affecting HIV medical providers, visit: https://www.hiveonline.org/for-providers/
The work that I have done at HIVE has been impactful in both the development of HIVE and of myself. The patient database that I have spent so much time working on, and will hopefully be completed by the time my time at HIVE finishes, allows HIVE to answer critical questions related to HIV in the advancement of their work. The database allows users to more quickly pull information about women and couples affected by HIV and how HIV shapes their experiences. For example, the database will shed light on what it takes to be engaged in HIV care and how one might feel the stigma of HIV, among many other things. These questions are ones that are seldom answered or integrated into HIV care but are what necessitate making HIV care dynamic and comprehensive.
What I wish I had known when I had started HIVE was what it would feel like to not be interacting with the patients that I am inputting into the database. Each day, I am reading medical providers’ notes on someone’s physical, social, and mental well-being. The notes are often in depth and cover a lot of vulnerable information, but simultaneously the note cannot capture everything about the patient. Many of the challenges with the database include how to communicate the most key information about someone’s health. Recently, at a HIVE meeting, we were talking about how to capture one’s experience with HIV and stigma. As this is something that many folks affected by HIV experience, it was important to write into the database. While this is true, it’s also difficult to reduce something as complex and ever-changing as stigma into a yes or no option in a database, which is reflected in the fact that I read notes about patients and their most intimate experiences, but will never meet them. It’s difficult to reconcile the two, but seeing how people’s experiences with HIV and the conversation around HIV have changed over the years feels hopeful.
Some advice that I would give to someone who wants to become involved in social justice work is that there are so many people who are doing the work that needs to be done. There are so many pushing back against oppressive systems, and because there are so many ways in which oppression manifests, there is a vast majority of organizations who are all doing different, yet equally significant, work. One experience I had recently was participating in the San Francisco AIDS Walk where organizations from all over the Bay Area gather to support HIV programs and services. There were over 100 organizations who participated, which in turn illustrates the diversity of HIV activism—so many unique organizations who all support a common goal (to read about the AIDS Walk, visit: https://sf.aidswalk.net/About). In other words, there are so many people, from the grassroots level to the institutional level, fighting for activist causes and all that one needs to do is become involved.