“I’m not supposed to be here,” Bamby Salcedo has said more than once. “I’m really not supposed to be here.” It’s easy to see why she would say that: circumstances, transphobia, and fate seemed to align into a full scale assault on her life.
Salcedo was raised by a single, working Mexican mother who instilled faith and vision but couldn’t protect her daughter from a place Salcedo calls “darkness,” where she came face to face with evil on a daily basis.
But this Latina trans woman has always been a survivor. She survived childhood sexual abuse, survived the rough streets of Guadalajara, survived a drug addiction, survived coming to America, survived being locked up in a U.S. prison, and survived the struggle of being a trans woman.
“In our society, as trans women we are not recognized as who we are,” she once said, addressing a diverse audience, in a presentation spotlighted on the documentary film: Transvisible: Bamby Salcedo’s Story . “We’re not recognized as individuals and, most importantly, as the women we are.”
For all that she’d overcome, Salcedo admits she wasn’t sure she’d survive HIV.
“My story is like the story of many,” she tells Plus. “I was diagnosed in the early stages of HIV/AIDS. Back then, being diagnosed was a death sentence. I’ve had struggle — at the beginning, in a very negative way. But over time, because there have been people along the way that guided me and supported me, being HIV-positive has turned into something that has empowered me to be who I am and do what I can to support others who may be struggling.
To do that, Salcedo founded the Trans-Latin@ Coalition and established the Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness, a place she’s particularly proud of and hopes to expand in the next year.
If you were to ask why she works so tirelessly helping other trans people she would give her famous smile and say it’s “community investment.” After all, it was the community that saved her from the dark years.
In fact, paying it forward motivates Salcedo. At the Center for Violence Prevention and Transgender Wellness, she and her dedicated team are providing clients with “emergency rental assistance, food vouchers, transportation vouchers — with a case manager that leads them to different services.”
The Los Angeles-based center is perfectly located to provide benefits to trans people “being released from incarceration and immigration detention centers, to help them not go back into the same cycle of crime and homelessness.”
With the help of the Elton John Foundation, the center will be moving into a bigger space next year where they can better meet the demand for services. Salcedo’s long-term vision involves replicating the system in multiple chapters throughout the country.
Honored as one of Out magazine’s 2015 Out100, Salcedo noted, “Understanding our power as individuals and as a community, we will be able to make the changes we need for trans people to have a better quality of life.”
This year, Salcedo has addressed the National LGBT Journalists Association’s New Ways: Reporting on HIV symposium and was invited to the very first “United State of Women," a national summit on the state of women in the U.S. At the summit in Washington, D.C., Salcedo joined distinguished guests like Nancy Pelosi (Minority Leader of the House of Representatives) and Vice President Joe Biden — not bad for a once-homeless activist from Guadalajara!
The long-term survivor has also spent eight years as a health education and HIV prevention services coordinator but she says, “The reality is when someone gets diagnosed, there is still a lot of pain that is inflicted. There is a lot of shame, there is guilt, a lot of stuff we have to deal with. The message is that people who live with HIV are basically committing a sin.”
The best way to break through that kind of stigma? Information. “I would say to someone newly diagnosed, let them know it is a manageable disease. There is nothing to be ashamed of. There are functioning individuals who are productive in society and HIV-positive. Be who you are supposed to be and try to be the best you can. Regardless of the limited resources, anything is possible with hard work and dedication.”
David Artavia is a New York City writer and founder of Real Gay Guy. He loves living vicariously through his friends. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.