Living My Best Life

The plane broke into spontaneous applause as we safely landed in Puerto Rico. I’d forgotten about this sweet custom and was reminded why I love the islands. Some folks think the applause is a thank you to the gods for arriving safely, others believe it is gratitude for being home with their people. I’m in San Juan to celebrate Pride and hold a board meeting/site visit for the 2022 United States Conference on HIV/AIDS.

Words cannot describe how good it felt to be at Pride in PR. It’s been too long. I missed being with community. I’m too old to walk the entire route, so I want to thank Ariana’s Center for letting me ride on their float. To experience their Trans Pride was a gift. Right now, too many are using the transgender community as a punching bag. It was an honor to ride with them during this difficult moment.

Leadership means showing up for the communities hardest hit by HIV.

Congratulations and thank you to everyone working to hold Pride events in-person. The world is an awful place and it’s easy to be overwhelmed and depressed. Public events are not for everyone. There are real risks for getting COVID or Monkeypox. As we learned from our safer sex days, abstinence from the world is the only sure way to be 100% safe. COVID showed me the challenges of being alone. I need to be in the world, traveling and experiencing life. That’s why I was so grateful for San Juan’s Pride.

This year’s USCHA will be a love letter to Puerto Rico. Life is beautiful and difficult here. The meeting is at their amazing conference center (I took the photo myself) and will lean into the culture by highlighting the organizations and people working to end the epidemic in a country that is also a territory. The Opening Plenary will be in Spanish with simultaneous translation into English. USCHA did this to give attendees the experience that impacts too many non-English speaking clients. You are going to learn about the culture by tasting the food and listening to the music, but the best ambassadors are the people. There is a pride to being Puerto Rican. NMAC is working with an amazing local host committee to give you an authentic experience. USCHA is the first big meeting to happen at the center since COVID. There are many jobs and lots of economic development dependent on us.

The 2022 meeting has the largest pre-registration in history. Two hotels are already sold-out. Only 30% of the exhibit space is still available. People are ready for an in-person meeting. Our COVID protocols are stricter than Chicago. Everyone will be required to have initial vaccines and at least one booster. The meeting will also follow all local ordinances. Masking will be encouraged and celebrated. Rapid tests will be available for free for attendees. However, there are no guarantees. Of the 1,033 attendees at this year’s Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit, four people let us know they got COVID after the meeting. We’ve also had two people test positive at two different regional trainings (one per training). No one was seriously ill or went to the hospital. As a health organization that works with people who are immune compromised, we feel a duty to inform. As a gay man of color living in America, I understand risk. There is no one right answer for everyone. I hope you will join us this year, but completely understand if it is too soon.

The world is crazy and that makes Pride even more important. I reject being labeled a groomer. It’s just the Right’s dog whistle for pedophiles. Make no mistake, they are coming after all of us. I stand with Pride, not only for my own mental health, but also as a “fuck you” to all who would deny my humanity. We are headed for war because nobody wants to go back into the closet. There need to be a NATO pact between the oppressed. When they go after abortion, Black Lives, immigration, Asian Lives, climate change, Trans Lives, limits on guns, and the LGBTQ community, we must stand together in our outrage.

Yours in the Struggle,

Paul Kawata

Paul Kawata