It is an honor to be selected as a “Champion of Change” by the White House in commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Being a long-term survivor (after living with HIV/AIDS for 24 years) has afforded me the rare opportunity to take control of my life and give it selflessly back to others. Someone was homeless before me, raped before me, discriminated against before me, wrongly incarcerated before me and experienced hate crime violence before me—yet someone survived. I stand before you as a living example of what a little hope can do for those among us.

I founded LaGender in 2001 to address the unique needs of the transgender community surrounding issues such as HIV/AIDS, homelessness, incarceration, mental health wellness, discrimination and hate crime violence. These challenges personally impacted me and I could not find the resources to help me overcome them. Where there was no path I created one: LaGender Inc. My role as executive director and founder of LaGender Inc., a nonprofit organization that empowers transgender people, has been the vehicle I have used in order to create change.

Education is the key to opening the minds and hearts of people. LaGender educates community organizations and academic institutions on gender identity. We conduct trainings and workshops that inform people on how to provide services to transgender people.

Sometimes something as simple as meeting a transgender person can help put a face on the word “transgender.” That is the most rewarding part of my job—the outreach. It breaks down stereotypes. It allows people to relate. They realize that transgender equality is about everyday people who want the same chance as everyone else to earn a living, to be safe, take care of their loved ones and be a part of the American Dream.

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