April Feature Interview

Benjamin Di’Costa
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DiCostaBenjamin Di’Costa is a 24 year old minority bisexual man who currently resides in South Florida. Benjamin has worked in the HIV prevention field throughout Florida in various Community Based Organizations.  He is also pursuing his degree in Community Health Sciences.  After watching his partner become diagnosed with HIV and after noticing an absence of HIV negative young people (specifically gay and young people of color) advocating about social issues he decided to dedicate his life to being involved in the LGBTQ community on issues surrounding social justice and diversity education.

He currently promotes HIV testing/education, PrEP, health/wellness, and partner notification. He also spends his time advocating for expanded services for HIV prevention and treatment for the Transgender community.  Benjamin has dedicated his life to working alongside like minded people with a goal of ending the AIDS epidemic for good, getting new HIV infections down to zero, and reducing HIV related stigma.  He also provides technical assistance and capacity building assistance around social media, utilizing mobile hookup apps, creating story telling/personal narratives, working with communities of color, rural regions, and other areas.  In addition, Benjamin has been featured in Ambiente Magazine, South Florida Gay News, and CityXtra Magazine and has been on shows like Anderson Cooper LIVE!

​Benjamin has presented numerous workshops at conferences like the United States Conference on AIDS and has been invited by agencies around the globe to share his expertise or shared specific experiences.  Benjamin participates on numerous Boards, Committees, and Coalitions around the nation advocating on behalf of youth and young adults.  Benjamin is a 2014 Youth Scholar for NMAC’s Youth Initiative to End HIV/AIDS in America. Benjamin is also a National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Ambassador. He recently has been listed as 15 HIV Advocates To Watch in 2015 By MyFabulousDisease.com.

JRK:  Can you give Diversity Rules readers an idea of who Benjamin Di’Costa is — where you are from and all that good basic information?

BD:  Well I am a 24-year-old Bi-Sexual male who currently resides in Chicago, IL. I work in non profit.. And my guilty pleasures are Disney, GLEE, and Marshmallows.

JRK:  You have decided to dedicate your life to being involved in the LGBTQ community on issues surrounding social justice and diversity education.  What prompted this decision?

BD:  It honestly was a process that started with a traumatic event in my personal life and eventually lead me to make this my full time career.

JRK:  You have a goal of ending the AIDS epidemic for good, getting new HIV infections down to zero, and reducing HIV related stigma.  What are you doing to achieve that goal?

BD:  It honestly starts with bringing it up in everyday conversation.  It’s time we made HIV a taboo thing and made it a routine thing.  What I do to achieve that goal is to honestly be open about my sexuality and also being open about conversations regarding sex and health.

JRK:  What are some of the misconceptions about HIV and AIDS that need to be dispelled?  How is that achieved?

BD:  The biggest misconception is that HIV only affects certain people. HIV doesn’t discriminate against one particular community.  Another misconception is that HIV is only contracted through sexual contact, it can be contracted from 4 types of fluids; Blood, Semen, Vaginal Fluids, and Breastmilk.

JRK:  What advice would you give to someone who has been newly diagnosed with HIV?

BD:  First, Hang in there it’s not the end. Secondly, ask as many questions as you need to, this is a time where you will have a lot of questions and the best person that can answer those for you is a Doctor.

JRK:  Your bio says that you provide “technical assistance and capacity building assistance around social media, utilizing mobile hookup apps, creating story telling/personal narratives, working with communities of color, rural regions, and other areas.”  What does that all mean, specifically “capacity building assistance?”

BD:  Capacity Building Assistance is a tool that many non-profits and community based organizations use to better run their programming. Say for instance, you are doing a testing program but you have to work with a certain community and need more assistance on how to execute it well I would come in and help train the staff on ways to better do outreach and so forth.

JRK:  You speak out for social justice and equality.  Much of the advocacy today is being undertaken by organizations that sometimes do not represent the interests of those they are advocating for.  How do we motivate others to speak out individually and much more forcefully and not defer their advocacy to large agencies that are many times beholden to corporate donors and don’t necessarily want to “rock the boat” to raise awareness?

BD:  This is a very taboo topic even in the LGBT advocacy world. However I believe that it takes people like Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, and many other grassroots movements to say if you don’t want to speak about it we will call you out on your BULLSHIT and make you talk about it. We live in a time that marginalized people are tired of being marginalized and want a seat at the table.

JRK:  What are some of the most important things we can tell our youth about their individuality?  What can be done to encourage them to embrace it and be proud of who they are despite a society that sometimes degrades our individuality and creates disrespect and in many cases causes physical harm to those who are different?

BD:  I think that’s where the problem happens is when we tell youth about THEIR individuality instead of THEM expressing themselves and showing us how they identify. We are quick to put labels on young people and sort them in this “Life Box” and call it a day. But, empowering youth to explore and embrace themselves in whatever way that may be is the best tool that we can encourage them.  Young people are resilient and I think the best way to keep them safe is to give them outlets to express and also speak.

JRK:  What are some projects you have coming up that you want to let folks know about?

BD:  April is a busy month for me, I’ll be traveling to Washington D.C to speak to Congress about HIV funding for young people, and also decriminalizing HIV nationwide.  Then heading to Jersey City, New Jersey for the “HealthEVoices Conference.”  And also April 10th is National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day.

JRK:  Do you have any parting thoughts you wish to relay to Diversity Rules readers?

BD:  I think that it’s time to challenge institutions where diversity is lacking. You have protections and you have support from numerous organizations and advocates to be able to speak your mind and represent your community. So don’t be afraid and just SPEAK OUT!

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