Critical hope centres optimism and possibilities for change in the midst of struggles for social justice. It was a central tenet of early participatory pedagogy and HIV research. However, critical hope has been overlooked in contemporary HIV research that largely focuses on risk and biomedical interventions in ways that obscure collective agency and community strengths. We conducted a community-based study with transgender (trans) women of colour in Toronto, Canada to adapt an evidence-based HIV prevention intervention. Participants resisted a focus on HIV, instead calling researchers to centre journeys to self-love in contexts of social exclusion. In response, we piloted three arts-based, participatory methods generated with community collaborators: (i) affirmation cards sharing supportive messages with other trans women, (ii) hand-held mirrors for reflecting and sharing messages of self-acceptance and (iii) anatomical heart images to visualize coping strategies. Participants generated solidarity and community through shared stories of self-acceptance within contexts of pain, exclusion and loss. Narratives revealed locating agency and self-acceptance through community connectedness. Critical hope was a by-product of this participatory process, whereby participants shared personal and collective optimism. Participatory and arts-based methods that centre self-acceptance and solidarity can nurture resistance to pathologizing discourses in HIV research. Centring critical hope and participant-generated methodologies is a promising approach to transformative health promotion and intervention research. These methodological insights can be engaged in future participatory work with other marginalized groups facing dominant biomedical risk discourses. Critical hope holds potential as a participatory health promotion strategy for envisioning possibilities for sustainable change.

Optimism and possibility for change in the midst of social justice struggles are central to critical hope and change-oriented research. The concept of critical hope guided community-based activism and research, including early in the HIV pandemic. Yet current HIV research largely focuses on individual risks and biomedical solutions, which may overlook critical hope and the important role of community connection in promoting wellbeing. Our community-based study with transgender (trans) women of colour in Toronto, Canada aimed to adapt an HIV prevention intervention. Participants challenged the HIV focus and invited the research team to instead focus on pathways to self-acceptance in larger contexts of social exclusion. In response, we developed three arts-based activities to pilot-test at three workshops: affirmation cards to write supportive messages to other trans women, hand-held mirrors to write messages of self-acceptance, and anatomical heart images to visualize coping strategies. Through these activities, participants shared stories of self-acceptance that occurred over time and through community connectedness, often in the face of exclusion and discrimination. Perspectives on personal and collective optimism, reflecting critical hope, were shared in the workshops. Participant-generated methodologies that offer opportunities to discuss critical hope can be promising approach to transformative health promotion and intervention research.

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