Laylla Monteiro, an HPTN 091 Community Working Group member, is an experienced community educator at the Instituto de Pesquisa Clinica Evandro Chagas (IPEC) CRS in Rio de Janeiro. She is responsible for engaging populations deemed at risk for acquiring HIV, including transgender people. Laylla also promotes HIV prevention among the transgender community and develops strategies to expand transgender participation in HIV prevention clinical trials.
What attracted you to a career in HIV prevention research?
The most crucial aspect was contributing to the HIV pandemic response, especially among Brazilian transgender women. Transgender women are disproportionately affected by HIV in Brazil, with a more than 31 percent prevalence rate. This scenario results from inequalities and vulnerability the trans population faces in the country. In addition, through my work, I can promote health access to my community, particularly new methods of HIV treatment and prevention, as well as gender-affirming services. On a broader level, I also can be part of developing public policies to reduce inequalities and increase health access for the trans population.
What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy promoting and helping guarantee a welcoming, inclusive, and gender-friendly service and providing health information and access to vulnerable and marginalized people. In addition, by adopting the concept of expanded health, I aim to contribute to the right to citizenship and social inclusion by trans people. As such, I promote workshops in a collective named Transcrições, which was created to implement the expanded concept of health in practice. Activities include visits to places trans communities usually do not access, such as museums, theaters, etc. During the pandemic, the collective played a significant role as a psychological support network through online workshops.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
My primary motivation is my love for everything I do for my community. It is gratifying to know that I may contribute to an equal future for everyone, with more social justice and access to their rights. Also, it is essential that a trans person find motivation and hope to continue surviving through the workshops of the Transcrições collective.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career? Why?
My biggest influences are two people who taught me and continue to inspire me in peripheral community work, Josias Freitas and Toni Araújo. In 2013, they were the first to welcome and invite me to participate in an IPEC CRS/Fiocruz project known as Protagonismo Trans. This project resulted in a documentary on the most peripheral area of Rio de Janeiro and addressed the issues of vulnerability we face as transgender people. By the time the project occurred, basic policies and rights failed to reach those locations in Rio. After the project, Josias and Toni believed in my potential and asked me to join the IPEC CRS community team. They both influenced who I am today as a representative for the Trans community in the city of Rio de Janeiro and peripheral regions.
What volunteering or passion projects do you do outside of work?
In addition to my work at Fiocruz, I also coordinate a non-government organization (NGO) in a very poor and vulnerable location in Rio de Janeiro called Complexo de Favelas da Maré. This NGO promotes voluntary work for various social issues, such as food distribution to homeless people and mental health care access support. In addition, we develop numerous activities, such as a charity bazaar with clothes and shoes, mental health support groups, sustainable economy workshops, and information on HIV prevention at sex work spots.
What advice do you have for new HPTN members?
My inspiration comes from the hope for a more just and equal world for all people, regardless of race, gender, or social class. We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do for this change. So, new members should keep their faith and believe they can change the world through their community.