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Alabama transgender women of color selected for fellowship

A new fellowship program aimed at developing black and Latinx transgender women into leaders in public health kicked off in Washington D.C. last weekend and included three participants from Alabama. 

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation hosted the first class of ten fellows in the program Elevate: A Fellowship Advancing Public Health Leadership for Transgender Women of Color, a program designed for and by transgendered women of color. 

“Our hope is that we’re able to give this population the skills and resources they need to continue the advocacy work that they’re doing in their communities,” said J. Maruice McCants-Pearsall, director of HRC’s HIV and Health Equity Program and director of the Elevate program, speaking to APR on Wednesday. “Those who are most at risk of acquisition of HIV should be involved in the leadership aspect of the work, because they bring their lived experiences to the work, which is much more valuable than just book knowledge.” 

This first year of the pilot program accepted black and latinx transgender community members in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, but McCants-Pearsall said next year HRC plans to open the program up to fellows across the country and in U.S. territories.

Desiree Pittman, a senior at historically black Alabama State University in Montgomery, was selected as a fellow for the pilot year, and told APR on Wednesday that she was honored to have been selected. 

Pittman had previously interned with AIDS Alabama and worked to revamp Alabama State University’s LGBTQ organization. She hopes to use what she learns in the fellowship program to improve higher education’s treatment of the LGBTQ community in Alabama. 

“I want to work in diversity inclusion at HBCUs,” Pittman said, referring to historically black colleges and universities. “A lot of HBCUs don’t have accommodations for trans students or for LGBTQ students. It’s a really big issue in Alabama.” 

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV and approximately 40,000 new infections every year. 

HIV disproportionately impacts members of the LGBTQ community. Transgender women are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS, with an estimated HIV prevalence rate of 22 percent.  

The first group of Elevate fellows are Atlantis Narcisse of Houston; Desiree Pittman of Montgomery, Ala.; Donte Oxun of Houston; Jholett Hernandez of Montevallo, Ala.; Laneyana Henderson of Jackson, Miss.; Mahogany Toney of Birmingham, Ala.; Samantha Rose Montemayor-Morales of McAllan, Texas; Jayla Sylvester of Houston; Bee Kelley of Little Rock, Ark.; and Nakia Green of Little Rock, Ark..

The initial gathering in Washington D.C. was led by Advocates for Better Care Executive Director Atlanta Tori Cooper, Casa Ruby Founder Ruby Corado, Southern Black Policy and Advocacy Network CEO Venton Hill-Jones and HRC Project One America Director Meghan Kissell. 

For more details on the program visit


Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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