We’re proud to announce that our very own Tapakorn Prasertsith was named an NMAC Youth Scholar this year. The competitive program is sponsored by NMAC, ViiV Healthcare, Magic Johnson Foundation, and Advocates for Youth. The program is designed to develop “future leaders among a cadre of Youth Scholars to take action to end HIV/AIDS in their communities via educational training, professional development, and networking opportunities.” Scholars will attend the US Conference on AIDS and complete a special project in their community by the end of the year.
Tapakorn took a few moments out of their busy day to talk to us about the experience.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Tapakorn Prasertsith and I’m a 2nd generation, Thai-American, non-binary, queer, 24 year old. Before joining API Wellness, I taught video game programming classes at a high school. I also worked numerous tech startup jobs in San Francisco as a quality assurance engineer. Now I’m the PrEP Case Manager at API Wellness.
How do you feel about being accepted as an NMAC Youth Leader?
It’s an understatement to say am honored and thrilled! In the last 2 years, I’ve really gotten into the nitty-gritty of HIV Prevention work and I see firsthand how disproportionately affected communities (trans women & young queer people of color in particular) have been left behind, and the trauma these communities carry and continue to face. I attended USCA for the first time in 2016 (thank you API Wellness!) and really felt how NMAC and everyone attending were fighting so hard to right these wrongs, and to do better for those who deserve the best. To be recognized by such an organization whose mission statement resonates within me so strongly, means the world to me.
What does leadership mean to you?
It’s doing the right thing, even when it’s the hardest thing to do, and inspiring others to do the same. It’s calling friends out for ignorance. It’s stopping violence when you see it. It’s taking a seat and following when it’s someone else’s turn to lead. It’s pushing forward while lifting your peers up with you. It’s Captain America discovering that the government agency he’s been fighting for his whole life was secretly being run by a corrupt foreign power and fighting his way out to form the Avengers. It’s leading by example, and it’s tough.
You have many identities. How do the intersections of these identities affect your leadership?
We’re all really, really complicated creatures and I think all parts of me affect my leadership in some way or another. I’m a 2nd generation, Thai-American, ESL, non-binary, queer, 24 year old. I am also a competitive video gamer, a volleyball libero, a PrEP user and educator, a ballet dancer, and can be found on online phone-modding forums. I go to therapy regularly (physical & mental), have a severe and inexplicable phobia of ketchup, and advocate that the button-up shirt is the most versatile piece of clothing there is. I’m a firm believer that we are greater than the sum of our parts. My work is on a platform of intersectionality, inclusivity, accessibility, and education. I feel leadership means making sure all the right people are at your side, and it’s a leader’s job to ensure that they have the space and ability to be there.
What issues most affect youth in the HIV epidemic?
I don’t know where to begin! The generation gap, both by actual age and mentality, is widening. I think we’ve all seen this subtle battle being waged between “baby boomers” and “millennials”, and this animosity spills into the climate surrounding HIV. We did not live through the height of the epidemic, but to counter that we are highly educated, given the vast amounts of knowledge we go through now every day. I do NOT believe that youth are now more reckless when it comes to HIV, and I will argue that stance forever. I do believe there is understandable trauma and fear spread by older generations that lead to misinformation and shame. Our medical system is often a nightmare to navigate. Potential costs are unimaginable for a generation working with a minimum wage that still has not caught up to inflation. The list goes on and on, but to put it short: stigma and accessibility.
How do you see the epidemic changing over time?
That’s what youth leaders are for! I have high hopes for my generation. Technology has connected us and educated us stronger than any generation before us. We have the tools to create change. We’ve already reached a point where Undetectable = Untransmittable, and trials are underway for new, stronger, longer-lasting, and more accessible forms of PrEP, and things can only get better from there. We’re in the midst of a revolution, and I think our generation will finally see us start “getting to zero” (UNAIDS goals of zero new HIV transmission, zero HIV-related deaths, and zero stigma).
What are you most looking forward to as an NMAC Youth Leader?
So much! I’m definitely excited to be a part of a group of fellow youth leaders across the nation, all sharing a common goal, but all with their own strengths and passions. It’s a chance I couldn’t pass up to be at the Capitol in Washington D.C. fighting the good fight with our government about HIV funding, and how many peoples’ wellness, their lives really, are at stake with the Administration’s proposed budget cuts. I’m always told San Francisco is in a bubble, and for the most part it’s true—D.C. is on the opposite coast! Going to USCA last year was almost surreal to see how other parts of the country are doing. Some folks are doing such inspiring work, and many need support to get their infrastructure going. There’s so much to learn from each other, and so much opportunity to grow. I’m ready to expand the scope of my work to a national level. I’ve got lots of ideas buzzing around my head for our World AIDS Day project. I just can’t wait.