Outspoken HIV Prevention Advocate & Trans Health Activist Bamby Salcedo’s Story Transcends Disparity and Reaches Across All Borders
by Dann Dulin
Drug addiction, homelessness, skid row, prison, a broken home, HIV, and immigration issues. This could be an episode line-up for a season of CSI, but it’s the true-life story of Bamby Salcedo. In the captivating new documentary, TransVisible: Bamby Salcedo’s Story, directed by Dante Alencastre and executive-produced by Roland Palencia, Bamby’s disturbing tale is revealed through her own words, supported by a cast who knows this passionate fighter. Bamby opens the film by declaring gratefully and graciously, “Yo soy milagro (I am a miracle).”
Bamby’s journey is indeed extraordinary. Raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, now residing in Los Angeles, she transformed the horrors of her life into honors. Once she gained sobriety, Bamby began working on staff at the AIDS advocacy organization, Bienestar, where she worked for six years. She then moved on to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles where she’s currently the HIV Prevention Services Project Coordinator, supervising HIV prevention programs designed for young people. It’s the largest program of its kind in America.
Bamby is founding President of The Trans-Latin@ Coalition, publisher of XQsi Magazine, and a member of the National Latino AIDS Action Network (NLAA). Recently earning an associate’s degree, she is presently working towards a bachelor’s in social work. Having worked at Children’s Hospital for over six years now, Bamby has been in the HIV/AIDS field for over twelve years.
In 2008 Bamby founded Angels of Change, an annual fundraiser that benefits the Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Division of Adolescent Medicine Center. That same year, she launched the first trans youth calendar for 2009. This year the event takes place every November and usually at the Arena Night Club.
This Renaissance gal has earned many accolades, including the Sol Award from the National Latino AIDS Awareness Day of Los Angeles, the Icon Award from The TransUnity Pride of Los Angeles, the Connie Norman Leadership Award from The Christopher Street West Producers of L.A. Pride, and the Sheila J. Kuehl Trailblazer Award from the Stonewall Democratic Club.
“Stop the bullshit! Stop the bullshit! And dignify our communities,” she shouted through a bullhorn several years ago at a street rally, standing on the back of a flatbed pickup truck.
With this kind of commitment to end injustice, Bamby has become a spokesperson and role model not only for trans people and HIV, but for youth, gays, Latinas, and immigrants, as well. Her resilient spirit is infectious and fortunately, Bamby refuses to “go gentle into that good night.” Her commanding grass-roots activism is in full tilt and she continues to reach higher summits, saving lives and empowering others. This girl ignites inspiration.
Dann Dulin: What motivates you to continue raising a ruckus?
Bamby Salcedo: Because I love what I do! I’m working to prevent infection among young people who are getting hit so hard by HIV these days. Hope is what keeps me alive and thriving. When I see a young person who’s been shattered from the injustices of our society and then eventually blossoms into their full potential as a beautiful person, that inspires me. I am nothing without their belief and trust in me. Their love motivates me to change structures that continue to keep us marginalized.
In your early years, you had quite a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride. Do you have any regrets?
I honestly do not have regrets. The past is in the past. The only discomfort I have is that I did not have the opportunity to make better decisions in my life because of the lack of opportunities and self-awareness. I wish I could have had an education earlier in my life so that my voice could be more credible on behalf of my community today. But I am happy that I am attending school now so that I can attain credibility from those who still doubt me.
Where does the name “Bamby” come from?
The name Bamby started as a nickname. When I was younger, I used to play soccer in Mexico and I was a very fast runner. People would remark, “Miren, corre como un venado (Look, he runs like a deer).” Over time I associated “deer” with the movie character Bambi. I thought Bambi was a girl. I didn’t want my name to be exactly like the movie character, so I changed the spelling. This eventually became my legal name.
There seems to be a few pronouns circulating for those who gender-transition. What do you prefer?
When did you first hear about the AIDS epidemic?
I first heard it back in the mid-eighties when I was in Mexico. I did not know much about it, other than it was killing gay people. When I came to this country, I started seeing my friends getting sick. Some of them died. That was around 1990. I realized that I may be at risk too, so I decided to take the test. That’s when I discovered I was HIV-positive.
What is the most challenging thing for you being HIV-positive?
Being HIV-positive is not easy. Being a trans person and living with HIV is harder because we not only have to deal with the stigma of being trans, but also the stigma of being HIV-positive, as well. It would be much easier if there were more competent service providers who understood our needs and the issues that we face.
What advice would you give someone who is newly diagnosed with HIV?
[Have] hope…and understand that HIV is not what makes you, you. HIV is simply a virus that lives in our bodies. It does not define who we are as individuals or the choices we make. We can live healthy lives and have control of our lives, just like with any other chronic disease, like diabetes or heart disease. It’s important that we take control of HIV and not let HIV take control of us. Our heart and our soul cannot be defeated by HIV or by any other disease.
What’s the biggest myth people have of trans people?
The biggest myth is that we are weird. The reality is that we are great. As trans people, it’s important that we are visible and that we participate in different activities so that people can learn who we are as individuals and as a community. It’s imperative that trans people live their lives authentically, despite all the challenges we face. So many of us are harassed, misunderstood, and rejected.
Who’s the biggest offender of replicating these myths?
The media. In most cases, they certainly do not give us a positive image. They reinforce people’s misunderstanding of our community. Most of the news reports are about murder, suicide, or hate crimes. We see images of trans people who come from privilege. They really do not represent the reality of our community, and that’s what we’re trying to do with TransVisible. We, as people, are capable of doing anything we set our minds to with persistence, passion, and love.
Although we have made some improvements in the lives of trans people today, I think it’s important to understand that we still have a long journey ahead.
The services that we have are very limited and we need more. In the entire country, there are only four trans youth-specific clinics. One is in Los Angeles, The Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital. But what about young people who are in other parts of the state and the country? That’s why we have the problem of homelessness among trans youth in Los Angeles. They come here from other places because they were not able to live their lives authentically where they come from. Once here, they find out that they have to wait months to see a doctor.
What’s your advice to a parent who learns that their child is a trans person?
Young trans individuals are not to blame for who they are. They need support, just like any other child in order to develop and discover their full potential. That’s why I ask policymakers to address their special needs and to continue to change the structures that have kept us marginalized for many, many years. It’s not fair to continue with the same history. They definitely deserve better.
What would you tell a young person who thinks that they may be trans?
Don’t be afraid. Understand that there are many people who have gone through the same process and have come to the other side of the bridge. Keep on living your life in a positive way and as long as you don’t harm anyone in the process, you’ll be okay. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Know that if you look for what you need and want in life, you will find it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
To my brothers and sisters, I just would like to say that although HIV is one of the many issues that impact our community, please know that some of us are working to end the epidemic. As I said earlier, HIV does not define us. We as a community are strong, wonderful, and great. That’s all we need to hold on to.
For more information about the film, log on to: www.transvisiblefilm.com. To learn more about some of the organizations that Bamby Salcedo works with, visit: www.translatinacoalition.org and www.angelsofchange.net.
Dann Dulin is Senior Editor of A&U.