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Lessons from the Front Lines: Trans Health and Rights

New amfAR and GATE Report Highlights Community-Led Efforts in Transgender Health and Advocacy.

  • Published
  • 8 December 2014
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NEW YORK, Dec. 8, 2014 – A new report released today by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, and Global Action for Trans Equality (GATE) highlights the ongoing struggle of transgender individuals across the globe in their fight for access to appropriate and effective HIV care and treatment. For years data has shown that transgender individuals are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS, both in terms of increased risk of infection and the high number of them already living with the virus.

Today, however, transgender individuals are increasingly using the power of community organization and mobilization to demand not only an equal place in society but timely access to relevant medical and other support services.

The new report, Lessons from the Front Lines: Trans Health and Rights, profiles 10 dynamic community organizations with strong transgender leadership in nine diverse countries – Bolivia, China, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Peru, South Africa, and Ukraine – that are working hard to change the status quo in transgender health and rights.

The report, supported in part by the Arcus Foundation and available in both English and Spanish, examines data on access to health services and legal protections for transgender individuals in different settings and details how societal stigma and institutionalized discrimination come together to create nearly insurmountable challenges for these populations and the organizations that serve them. More importantly, however, the report describes how these grassroots groups have confronted, responded to, and in some cases solved, many of the myriad challenges that confront them. The organizations profiled, all current and past grantees of amfAR, have achieved their successes through a combination of personal courage, determination, teamwork, and employing bold and creative strategies.

“Transgender individuals face similar challenges around the world, and in most countries cannot obtain legal recognition of their gender identities. Achieving an AIDS-free generation for all requires stepping up our efforts to address the specific needs of transgender individuals. While we still have a long way to go, we are beginning to see some promising signs of change and increased momentum in transgender health rights advocacy around the world.”

Kent Klindera, Director of amfAR’s GMT Initiative

In nearly every setting, transgender individuals face widespread violence (including sexual violence), lack of access to basic healthcare, and in many cases the dangers inherent in performing sex work, all of which combine to make them particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. In addition, stigma and discrimination make finding stable housing and employment extremely challenging and, in many cases, prevent transgender individuals from accessing even the most basic HIV prevention and treatment services.

Limited data exists on HIV indicators among transgender individuals in many countries, but a recent meta-analysis of research done throughout the world showed that the HIV rate among transgender women is likely to be 49 times higher than in the general population—and more than double the rate among gay men and other men who have sex with men. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding data on transgender men.

“This report recognizes that one key to success is having transgender individuals involved in leadership roles within the social, legal, and political processes that impact their daily lives. Providing training and giving transgender activists a platform to speak about their experiences and advocate for their rights is also essential. And while health centers that provide access to transgender-appropriate services and care for people with HIV are critically important, access to emotional and psychosocial support is needed as well.”

Mauro Cabral, Co-Director of GATE

Although little formal research has been done on the health and human rights of transgender individuals in most countries, the report found that involving them in the design, development and conduct of such research within their own communities is fundamental to increasing meaningful participation and promoting real change.

Since many of the organizations operate in the context of severe social and institutional stigma and discrimination, often described as ‘transphobia’, the report recognizes the importance of educating key policymakers on both the issues faced by and the rights of transgender individuals. While many transgender individuals and advocates are demanding laws that will allow them to change their gender and have it legally recognized, only some governments have been proactive in taking that step. Activists have achieved significant success when focusing on issues such as access to health and HIV services, which offer an entry point for future dialogue and relationship building.