I don't think I thought cogently about stigma as a health problem until I was in my doctoral program.
I was working at the local community health center, which had a large LGBTQ population. Being a person [also] living in the community, I experienced that many of my friends in the LGBTQ community would talk about challenges that they had accessing and engaging in health care. Then I would go to work, and I would be working with these amazing, great people that seemed really nice and wanted to provide care, and I was wondering where the disconnect was. That sort of generated my dissertation project around, "How does stigma work? And how does it impact health?"
After I left the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, I joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in the Department of Epidemiology with the Center for Public Health and Human Rights, where I worked for four years and had an amazing experience. And there's, I think, a time in most of our lives where it's time to go home, be where my parents are, and be ready for that stage of life.
That time came for me. So I moved to North Carolina, and I'm working at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. I'm now affiliated with the Center for Health Equity Research.
The beautiful thing about being in a school of medicine now is that all of those things are well-integrated. The students that I teach are the future doctors. I get to bring a perspective that they may not be exposed to in other biomedical classes. I get to continue to provide care for patients in the [infectious diseases] clinic at UNC, and I get to continue my research. I can really do all of those pieces together.
I think the beautiful thing about being alive is we don't know what is around the corner next. If someone had said to me 20 years ago that I would be in Durham, North Carolina, working at the University of North Carolina, doing research on HIV with transgender women, I would wonder how that could possibly happen. It's been great.
I feel like I've had so many amazing experiences and opportunities in my life that I can't even describe. I feel very, very fortunate.