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Mayor's award goes to leader in API community

by Chris Huqueriza

Tita Aida is this year's recipient of San Francisco<br>Pride's Teddy Witherington Award. Photo: Niccolo Cosme
Tita Aida is this year's recipient of San Francisco
Pride's Teddy Witherington Award. Photo: Niccolo Cosme  

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee selected one of the city's most prominent LGBTQI activists to receive San Francisco Pride's Teddy Witherington Award, which recognizes an individual who has contributed a long-standing, large body of work to the LGBTQ community.

"When I heard that I was selected by SF Pride's board of directors and the mayor for this award, the first word that I uttered was, 'Why me?'" Aida, a transgender woman who jokes that she stopped counting her age after 30. "Then later on, it started to slowly sink in that this was a special recognition, then I got really excited and honored. I will cherish this recognition for a long time and I hope it serves as inspiration for others to continue to do the work to empower our communities."

Aida recalls coming to the United States from the Philippines and how San Francisco's Pride celebration helped realized who she really is in regards to gender identity and sexuality. Since then, Aida has contributed to the advancement of the LGBTQI community for over two decades, working mainly to help improve the lives of those in the Asian and Pacific Islander LGBTQI community.

She decided to stay in the U.S. permanently in 1989.

"When I saw the opportunity to stay and thrive here in the Bay Area, I took the opportunity," she said.

Aida was the first trans member on the Commission on the Status of Women when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed her in 2008. She served on the panel for just over a year.

While creating many initiatives to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in the 1990s, Aida has also mobilized San Francisco's transgender community by raising support for organizations such as the Transgender Law Center and the AIDS Housing Alliance/San Francisco.

Aida also served on the board of directors of San Francisco Pride, including a stint as chair in 2010.

The award is named after the first permanent, full-time executive director of SF Pride. Witherington came on board in 1997, and received the recognition in 2008 from Newsom after seven and a half years contributing to the legacy of SF Pride.

Overjoyed by Aida's award, Witherington, who has known her for 16 years since they worked together at SF Pride in the early 2000s, praised her selection.

"Tita is not only a warrior and a tireless advocate, she is one of the kindest and gentlest souls that I am lucky to count in my universe," said Witherington, 53, a gay man who left SF Pride in 2005. "Because of her work, her heart, and determination thousands upon thousands of queer folk from the Asian and Pacific Islander communities – of many genders – are able to find a place, a home, not just at Pride, but in San Francisco. She is a role model for me and, I suspect, many others."

Out of her extensive nonprofit work, she has several accomplishments. In 1997, Aida worked for the San Francisco Department of Public Health's AIDS Office as a research associate, which jumpstarted many funding opportunities for local and statewide transgender programs.

In 2000, Aida, who's also known as Nikki Calma, volunteered with the Filipino Task Force on AIDS and birthed the identity of "Tita Aida" as a character who would help and support Filipino men who have sex with men with issues like HIV/AIDS education and prevention, identity, coming out, sexual health information, and more.

"As a volunteer, I was happy to step into the role of Tita since Tita was born," she recalled. "Tita is how we call our aunties in the Philippines and 'Aida' is a similar concept for a 'Dear Abby' column. Fused together, Tita then became the point person, adviser, big sister, and friend that one can approach around these issues that permeated in the community."

Currently, Aida manages the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center's Trans Thrive program. The program is a drop-in center helping the transgender community as a safe space for personal expression and empowerment.

"I work with an amazing staff who are talented and the smartest trans individuals, in which we provide a safe space for our trans brothers and sisters who may need a helping hand in navigating the systems in place for them to live productive lives," said Aida.

Aida will continue her community work but would like to be involved at the national and global level, especially when it comes to HIV awareness and supporting the transgender community. There have been talks about documentaries, but no decisions have been made. Whatever the future holds, she says to herself: "Watch out world, I am only starting life!"

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