Being a fighter isn’t easy, nor is being HIV-positive, but for activist and community leader Arianna Lint, these things are simply a part of her life. A force to be reckoned with, Lint is a tireless advocate for her communities: Latinas, transgender people, and those living with HIV.
A former Peruvian refugee who was diagnosed with HIV in 2006, Lint has become a leader in the transgender community in Florida and on a national scale. But the road between hasn't always been easy.
“When I tested positive for HIV, it was a devastating experience," Lint recalls now. "The first thing I thought is I would die.” She also feared the disease would make her look sick and unhealthy, and she worried that that her diagnosis was “divine punishment.”
“I was not denying my status, but I did feel a lot of stigma and I never disclosed my status with anybody from my family," the activist recalls. "I focused on learning and studying about HIV. The way to accept HIV status is through education, not just educating myself but educating others.”
After graduating from law school at Universidad de San Martin de Porres, Lint was forced to flee Peru because of the harassment and threats she faced as a transgender woman.
“I have a withholding of removal status,” Lint says, explaining her immigration status. “It is like a [secondary] class of trans refugee.”
According to Immigration Equality, this means Lint has been recognized as demonstrating a greater than 50 percent chance that she would be persecuted on account of her “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” if she returned to her country of origin. But she still cannot travel outside of the U.S., not even to visit her family in Peru. Leaving the country would be considered self-deportation by the U.S. government. She would lose her immigration status and wouldn’t be allowed back into the U.S. Although happy to be here, Lint still fears for her family and wishes they would be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. as well.
“My family is my bigger personal concern — they are my best supporters, they accept me and love me unconditionally," she says. "But my parents live in Peru. The system continues to treat us like we don’t have anybody, like we don’t have a family who loves us, but it’s not true. My family is proud of who I am.”
Despite those political barriers and her HIV status, Lint has prospered since arriving in America. She has worked with Florida Health Department in the HIV/AIDS Department for nearly a decade and as a speaker for the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb, which she credits as providing her with “the confidence to disclose my status.”
Lint underscores the need for resources provided by pharmaceutical companies, and for healthcare providers to become more involved with the HIV-positive community and transgender community in their efforts to fight the virus.
“I hope more pharmaceutical companies and others will continue to fund these programs,” Lint says. “Pharmaceutical companies can help my community a lot if they partner with trans-led agencies.”
She adds that the trans community “desperately needs culturally competent health care providers.”
As director of the Transgender Services Department at SunServe, Lint connected trans people with employment opportunities, safe housing, social networks, and medical services. Now she sits on the Community Empowerment Committee of the Broward County HIV Health Services Planning Council and is a member of numerous boards, including for the [email protected] Coalition, TransAction Florida (part of Equality Florida), The Well Project, and Positively Trans (T+).
Lint doesn’t slow down in her "spare" hours. She finds the time to write the Spanish blog "Chicas como Yo," and organized her region's first successful transgender pool party.
“It was an amazing experience,” she says. “It was the first ever transgender pool party in Wilton Manors, Florida, and we hosted it in order to encourage participants to receive HIV testing as well as to provide a safe space for gender non-conforming individuals to relax outside.”
Trans men and women alike were welcomed to a pool area free of judgment, with helpful staff providing condoms and information about free transgender services.
“I organized this pool party without any financial support, but with a lot of love,” Lint concludes. “The party was great, and more than 100 trans people showed up.”
Successfully blending those kind of social events with advocacy and educational outreach is central to Lint’s plans for The Arianna Center. Focusing on transgender women, Lint arranges meet-ups and parties in “places that no outreach or prevention programs ever touch” with the goal of networking and linking women to valuable resources. She dreams of transforming The Arianna Center into “a place where any transgender or LGBQ person in South Florida can feel love and access services.”
Lint isn’t oblivious to recent backlashes against the trans community, and acknowledges the tough road ahead.
“It’s difficult work [but] we continue to break barriers," she says. "And while we can support LGBQ issues like marriage, they don’t directly help the trans community. Now we need to prioritize trans rights. It’s time for bigger agencies to work with us on this, and not give us lip service.”