AIDSWatch Blog: Bringing My Personal Story to Capitol Hill

By Joe Drungil on May 2, 2014 in AIDSWatch, Policy/Advocacy

Kayla Headshot

By Kayla Patterson
Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow, AIDS United

My father passed away from AIDS in the early 1990s. Since his death, sharing my story has been intimidating because of HIV/AIDS stigma. Whether it is the fear of judgment or the shame that society inadvertently makes people feel surrounding the disease, most people – me included – shut down and hide themselves. AIDSWatch is a forum that allows people living with HIV/AIDS to share their story with legislators so their voices can finally be heard.

I am rarely exposed to Southern California HIV community-specific concerns outside my bubble as a native Northern Californian. Thankfully, I attended three Hill meetings with a group of participants from San Diego that illuminated the daily battles their HIV communities face. I was not only educated on the issues that California faces from a positive person’s perspective, I was also inspired by their courage and strength. Many of them had never been to a meeting with a Congressional office, and I believe all of them felt that their voice was heard, making the entire planning process worth it. I attended four more meetings with the immensely talented and experienced Ernest Hopkins, Director of Legislative Affairs for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. It was a privilege observing how he maneuvered meetings and communicated with staffers, and I learned many lessons that I will never forget moving forward in my career. Most of our meetings focused on the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) Program and the lack of affordable housing opportunities in the Bay Area, and many of the staffers assured us that their offices have prioritized affordable housing.

I was proud and honored to be a part of the AIDS United staff for AIDSWatch 2014. The event had such a positive impact on so many attendees. For the first time in many years, AIDS United provided hotel scholarships to many people living with HIV who would otherwise not be able to attend. The most fulfilling and motivating part of the event was witnessing how energized participants were to share their stories. I encourage everyone who participated to continue sharing their stories and inspire others, as you have for me, and continue the dialogue about HIV/AIDS. I look forward to next year and look to seeing even more new participants!

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