Downtown Women’s Center participant Abigail Malecki will lead her own HIV/AIDS prevention class starting in August 2015.
Her peer-led class "Kissing Angels" empowers other women to learn about risk factors, treatment options, and empowerment strategies for HIV and AIDS. We sat down with Abigail to hear her story.
What are your responsibilities and roles at DWC?
I’m a peer leader in the Kitchen, Day Center, and Health Clinic. In the Kitchen, I help prepare, cook, and serve meals to the women. In the Day Center, I patrol and help make sure women have their belongings and be the eyes and ears for staff. With the health team, I help keep people healthy by marketing our wellness activities and encouraging others to exercise and eat healthy foods.
ABOVE LEFT: Abigail prepares to serve a meal in the DWC Kitchen with volunteer Oghenemano.
What do you appreciate most about DWC?
I appreciate everything about this place: being here with people I care about, knowing that there are lots of resources here, the hard work that goes into making the Center run every day. I’m glad that a place like this exists for LGBT people to come to.
Staff members are always taking measures to keep everyone safe and try to keep the arguing and fighting down to a minimum; they are willing to stand up for transgender people like myself. It gives me nice feelings knowing that a place like this is willing to stand up for individuals who are different. I feel like I’m treated with respect here.
What does being transgender mean to you?
Being transgender means that I’m me, and I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not.
I love that I’m transgender. I’m also proud to be transgender.
I find a lot of transgender people, especially youth, attempt or commit suicide or participate in risky behaviors. A lot of transgender people don’t receive much support from their environments because of who they simply are, such as when their families reject them. From my personal experiences, not a lot of places are trans-friendly. The LGBT community and the transgender community in particular, continue to face many challenges.
Why did you decide to start the first peer-led HIV/AIDS Prevention Peer Program at DWC?
I became a certified peer health educator at another agency, where I eventually wanted to put my skills to work in order to prevent women from either getting HIV/AIDS or reduce women’s risk of spreading HIV/AIDS to others.
It’s known that LGBT people are more at risk for developing HIV/AIDS. Also, a lot of girls who are involved in sex work do not know where to get the necessary resources preventing HIV transmission. And it’s sad. I want to help change that within my DWC community. I’m looking forward to people learning about HIV to keep themselves and others safe and HIV-free.
What does it mean for you to teach this class at DWC?
I’m hoping that my class series will achieve increased HIV knowledge and awareness about preventative measures they can take, and where to access safe sex resources.
In teaching my classes, I want to feel a sense of accomplishment, knowing that I’ve done my part to help decrease the overall risk for HIV for the women at DWC.
MSW, MPH, Health Program Specialist