First Black trans woman on presidential HIV/AIDS panel talks historic appointment

"Being the first of anything is always daunting," said Tori Cooper

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As director of community engagement for the transgender justice initiative at the Human Rights Campaign, Tori Cooper is on a mission to bring attention to disparities in health care for the Black trans community.

Cooper recently became the first Black transgender woman appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA).

“I never expected that those folks would know who I am or have any idea about the work that’s being done,” she told NPR.

“My goal as an individual who’s part of a collective is to make sure that we are bringing more equitable health outcomes and even the playing field [to] increase people’s capacity to live healthily and happily,” Cooper said.

Cooper brings 30 years of experience to the position at the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, which was created in 1995 to provide the secretary of Health and Human Services with advice and policy recommendations related to HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention. Cooper joins seven new members of PACHA.

“We are pleased to welcome these new members to PACHA and look forward to their contributions of expertise and ideas to the Council’s work,” read a statement from B. Kaye Hayes, acting director of the Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy and executive director of PACHA.

“Their distinct experiences and perspectives help ensure that the Council’s work honors the racial, ethnic, sexual and gender minority, and geographic diversity of the HIV epidemic in the U.S. today. Like the current members, the new members share a commitment to making a difference in the response to HIV by sharing their knowledge, creativity, and time,” the statement continued. 

Tori Cooper (National Black Justice Coalition)

Cooper first decided to use her voice to help her community about 20 years ago when she launched an HIV risk-reduction program for the Centers for Disease Control called Sister to Sister.

On the website, Sister to Sister is described as “a brief, individual-level skills-based safer sex intervention designed to improve women’s knowledge, beliefs and motivation, to change their behavior in ways that will reduce their risk for sexually transmitted infections (STDs), and HIV. It is also designed to increase self-efficacy and build skills to practice these behaviors.”

As founder of Advocates for Better Care Atlanta, Cooper works to empower marginalized people across the country.

“Being the first of anything is always daunting,” Cooper said of her new role on the PACHA panel. “But it also is a great opportunity to break down barriers and open doors for other people as well.”

As reported by NPR: “According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, nearly 37,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV, with roughly 16,000 identifying as Black/African American. In a CDC study of HIV prevalence in transgender women across seven U.S. cities, 62% of Black transgender women were infected, compared to 35% of Hispanic trans women and 17% of white trans women.”

“One of many priorities I have is certainly to be a voice for trans people, gender-nonbinary people and gender-expansive people, making sure that our voices are heard,” Cooper said, as reported by NBC News. “And simply making sure that all policies that we’re looking at are inclusive of folks and that the HIV movement takes a much more inclusive and diverse trajectory moving forward.”

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