Trans Atlanta activist named to Biden’s presidential HIV council

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Atlanta’s own Tori Cooper became the first Black transgender woman appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS earlier this month.

“I’m very humbled, very proud,” she told Project Q Atlanta. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, so there’s this desire to just dig in and be a part of something that really means a lot to a lot of people in this country.”

Cooper is the director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative. The presidential council added her and seven other new members at its Aug. 4 meeting.

Another history-making trans woman swore Cooper in. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, is the first federal official confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Tori Cooper was the first-ever trans ambassador to the AIDS Walk Atlanta & 5K Run in 2016. (File photo)

‘Visibility is important’

The vetting process to join the council was extensive, Cooper said.

“The official title is ‘special government employee,’ so it’s a very rigid background process,” she said. “They find out everything about you that has ever existed, I’m sure.”

Cooper said it was “quite an honor” to be the first Black trans woman on the council.

“Visibility is important, and representation is important,” she said. “It’s important that folks see folks whom they feel that they share a community with. It’s also important for additional communities and additional intersectional identities to be at the table.”

While serving on the council, Cooper plans to advocate for trans people — especially Black trans people — on a broad range of issues.

“Making sure that all of our voices are heard and included in every phase of ending the epidemic,” she said. “Making sure the power is not just with a select few at the top of the pyramid but that the power goes back to folks deemed marginalized in society.”

Joining other Georgians on HIV council

The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS also added Columbus, Ga., resident Kayla Quimbley to its ranks. She is the National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day ambassador for Advocates for Youth.

Quimbley and Cooper joined two current members of the council from Georgia. Justin Smith is the director of the Campaign to End AIDS at Positive Impact Health Centers in metro Atlanta. Wendy Armstrong is the medical director for the Infectious Disease Program at Grady Health System’s Ponce de Leon Center.

Cooper was the first-ever trans ambassador to AIDS Walk Atlanta & 5K Run in 2016. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms named Cooper to her LGBTQ Advisory Board soon after taking office in 2018.

She was also one of 90 HIV activists, doctors and researchers to send a letter to Bottoms in 2019 expressing a “total loss of faith and confidence” in the city’s ability to manage HOPWA, a federal housing program for low-income people with HIV.

Out Georgia Business Alliance nominated Cooper for Community Leader of the Year in 2020. The group also named her to its first-ever list of the Most Influential LGBTQ+ Georgians that year.

Also in 2020, Cooper was one of some two-dozen LGBTQ elected officials, activists and grassroots organizers whom Sen. Rafael Warnock named to his LGBTQ campaign advisory council.

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