An Interview With Author And Activist Toni Newman

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Toni Newman is an organizer for the fundraiser Maitri’s Bliss and the author of the book, I Rise-The Transformation of Toni Newman; here is a link to her website:



Q:  What is Maitri’s Bliss


A: Maitri is the only AIDS-specific residential care facility in California since 1987 focusing on the underserved community of those dying of or severely debilitated by AIDS. Each year Maitri holds annual fundraiser called Bliss Gala and Auction. This year Maitri is celebrating 29 years of service to the underserved with AIDS in San Francisco. The proceeds from the Bliss gala goes to the direct medical care of the residents of Maitri. For more information about Bliss 2016, please go to


“Maitri is like sitting on a lotus flower, which to me, is very warm, beautiful and compassionate.” Before arriving at Maitri, Sorrita had been living in San …



Q:  How did you become involved with the event?


A: In July 2015, Executive Director Michael Smithwick hired me as the new Development Manager of Maitri. As the Development Manager, I am working with the Development Chair and Development Committee to oversee the details for Bliss 2016 on May 1 at the Mission Bay Conference Center-UCSF.


Q:  How did you get  Leslie Jordan  to host?


A: I attended one of Leslie Jordan’s comedy shows in San Francisco and he was just hilarious. We thought he would make an excellent MC/Host for Bliss 2016. We reached out to his management team, Reactions Productions, and they were very gracious in assisting us to get Leslie Jordan to host the event. Leslie has had lots of friends to succomb to this disease and he was very open to helping us make this event a success.


Q:  How has the life of the average AIDS patient changed over the years?


A: Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic’s beginning, and that disparity has deepened over time.  Blacks account for more new HIV infections, people estimated to be living with HIV disease, and HIV-related deaths than any other racial/ethnic group in the U.S.  The epidemic has also had a disproportionate impact on Black women, youth, and gay and bisexual men, and its impact varies across the country. Moreover, a number of challenges contribute to the epidemic among Blacks, including poverty, lack of access to health care, higher rates of some sexually transmitted infections, lack of awareness of HIV status, and stigma. Despite this impact, recent data indicate some encouraging trends, including declining new HIV infections among Black women. However, given the epidemic’s continued and disproportionate impact among Blacks, a continued focus is critical to addressing HIV in the United States. These are facts obtained from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).


Q:  What are some common  misconceptions about AIDS?


A: 1)I am HIV positive, my life is over.

In the early years of the disease epidemic, the death rate from AIDS was extremely high. But today, antiretroviral drugs allow HIV-positive people — and even those with AIDS — to live much longer, normal, and productive lives.

2) I could tell if my partner is HIV positive.

You can be HIV-positive and not have any symptoms for years. The only way for you or your partner to know if you’re HIV-positive is to get tested.

In the early years of the disease epidemic, the death rate from AIDS was extremely high. But today, antiretroviral drugs allow HIV-positive people — and even those with AIDS — to live much longer, normal, and productive lives.

3) I can get HIV from being around people who are HIV positive.

The evidence shows that HIV is not spread through touch, tears, sweat, or saliva. You cannot catch HIV by:

  • Breathing the same air as someone who is HIV-positive
  • Touching a toilet seat or doorknob handle after an HIV-positive person
  • Drinking from a water fountain
  • Hugging, kissing, or shaking hands with someone who is HIV-positive
  • Sharing eating utensils with an HIV-positive person
  • Using exercise equipmentat a gym


4)My partner and I are both HIV positive — there’s no reason for us to practice safer sex.

Practicing safer sex — wearing condoms or using dental dams — can protect you both from becoming exposed to other (potentially drug resistant) strains of HIV.



Q:  What is, I Rise-The Transformation of Toni Newman about?


A: The Memoir I Rise is about my 20 year transformation from M2F and the hardships I endured making that transistion with no friends, family or assistance. I wrote the memoir to give insight and educate others what it takes to transistion when there was very little help. I had not read a transgender memoir like mine when the memoir came out in April 2011. My partner and best friend, Alton Demore, encouraged me to write the book since he had not heard of any book like this. I discuss very openly and candidly my life from the beginning in rural North Carolina up to my days as a transgender mistress and escort. My whole purpose was/is to enlighten and educate others about transgenders and their life especially the minority transgender (most live below the poverty level even today).

Toni D. Newman | Transgender Author Toni Newman | Home





Q:  How is it different from other books about transitioning?


A: The memoir I Rise is very candid and open. I discuss my thoughts, my fears and my actions about transistioning and what it took for me to survive and exist and to be who I am today. The most relevant theme in the book is being your authentic self against all odds. I knew the only way for me to be complete and whole was to be my authentic transgender self. The journey for me was not a pretty one but a journey full of stumbles, heartaches, agony and pain. But the goal is to show others I made it over and you can make it too. Do not give up but strive each and every day to be your authentic self.



Q:  What has been the most effective thing you have done to promote your work?


A: I have been asked to speak to many minority groups about transistioning and why I did it. To enlighten and educate others even if I only reach 1 person is fulfulling and rewarding for me. Changing one mind at a time.



Q:  What is the least effective thing you have done?


A: Being more active with transgender activist groups. And the reason for that is I do not see a lot of groups reaching out to the people of color. Transgenders of color are more likely to be homeless, living below the poverty level and unable to obtain gainful employment. My goal and desire is to help and assist the transgender of color since I know first hand the hardships they face daily and what it takes to overcome those obstacles and succeed.


Q:  What is your opinion of Caitlyn Jenner?


A: I believe Caitlyn has good intentions and is very fortunate to be financially able to make the transistion smoothly. But the reality is that most transgenders especially those of color are unemployed, homeless and living below the poverty level. I think Caitlyn has brought awareness to the transgender community and that is a wonderful thing. But the reality is that more than 75% of transgenders of color dont know how they are going to survive and exist on a day to day basis. So I applaud Caitlyn for standing in her truth, but most of my sisters are struggling daily to survive and stand in their truth.


Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.



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