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HIV 360° Fellow Spotlight: Sasanka Jinadasa

Earlier this year, HRC Foundation announced the inaugural class of the 2016 HIV 360° Fellowship Program. Made possible with generous support from the Elton John AIDS Foundation, HIV 360° is a capacity-building fellowship program for young, non-profit leaders ready to take HIV-inclusive organizations and initiatives to the next level.

The HRC blog recently sat down with each of the fellows to discuss the program, their work, and their vision of an AIDS-free generation.

Sasanka Jinadasa, 23, is the Capacity Building and Community Resource Manager at HIPS, where she manages overnight outreach and hotline volunteers, communications, advocacy and capacity building trainings in the Washington, D.C., community. Sasanka identifies as a queer Lankan hard femme and has spearheaded projects on sex education, LGBTQ allyship and diversity and inclusion within activist spaces.

How did you first get involved with the movement to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic? How, if at all, did that inspire you to become an HIV 360° Fellow?

I’ve been working in racial and gender justice movements for as long as I can remember. As a queer femme of color, the communities that I come from are disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS. When I started working at HIPS, a non-profit supporting sex workers and drug users, it became immediately clear to me how neglected criminalized people are in this work. Becoming a fellow was and is an opportunity to learn from incredible young people across the country and how to best support the communities I love and center the most marginalized folks in the HIV and AIDS movement.

Each fellow has been asked to design, implement, and evaluate a community service project to combat HIV transmission rates in their respective communities. Tell us about yours and what you hope to accomplish with it.

Violence against sex workers due to stigma and criminalization is pervasive and aggressive. Research shows clear links between increased risk of HIV acquisition and violence, particularly sexual violence and intimate partner violence. My project focuses on building the capacity for sex workers to advocate for themselves through a peer organizing model. The project aims to reduce violence against sex workers through decriminalization. While decriminalization is the ultimate goal of the project, in the short-term, my project investigates whether sex workers gain social support and self-sufficiency through the process of organizing. Both social support and self-sufficiency are important tools to reduce risk of HIV transmission, and they are also coping tools for people living with HIV and AIDS. My project also hopes to bring in those who currently access HIPS through lower-barrier care (such as our overnight outreach program for condoms) and link them to higher-intensity care such as case management and treatment adherence.

What is one key learning you’ve gained from the fellowship program? What have you enjoyed the most about it?

I’ve learned that no one knows what they’re doing completely, which is a helpful lesson to have learned as a young person. What’s even better is knowing that there are brilliant, compassionate and talented people grinding away to figure out the best ways to do this work of ending the HIV and AIDS epidemic. I’ve been honored to work alongside badass queer people, women, and people of color and to be part of the effort to create an AIDS-free world.

How can people learn more about your organization and support the work you are doing?

HIPS is an incredibly effective organization in part because we put a lot of effort into treat our clients holistically — work that is not always grant-funded. We rely on funding from our community  — give at hips.org/donate! We also love donations of candy, toiletries, and clothing. If you want to make an in-kind donation, email sasanka@hips.org.

Visit our website and check out all of the services we offer. You can also apply to become a volunteer (hips.org/volunteer). Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates about HIV, sex work and drug use, as well as harm reduction tips and much, much more. With your support, we’ll make our world a safer, healthier, and more dignified place.

To learn more about the HIV 360° fellowship program itself, click here. Also, be sure to check out