HRC Blog

Experts and Advocates Gather at HRC for Panel on HIV Stigma

International AIDS Conference AffiliatesThe following post comes from Shane Snowdon, Director of HRC's Health and Aging Program:

HRC co-sponsored an affiliated event of the International AIDS Conference this weekend; the panel discussion “Addressing Stigma in Transgender and Other HIV-Vulnerable Communities.” The well-attended event at the HRC building was also sponsored by the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC), the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC), and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The crowd was welcomed by HRC president Chad Griffin, IAPAC president Jose Zuniga, and Robert Clay, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Global Health of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Seven panelists participated in the discussion, which was live-streamed and archived. Opening speaker Dr. Rafael Mazin of PAHO presented an overview of the “lessons learned” from PAHO’s HIV prevention work in Latin America and the Caribbean with MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender people. Presenting detailed epidemiological data for the regions, he stressed the contributions of homophobia, transphobia and other social factors to high HIV prevalence, and described PAHO’s efforts to engage with what he called a syndemic extending beyond HIV.

He was followed by Dr. Anita Radix, director of research and education at New York’s Callen-Lorde Clinic, who underscored the impact of social determinants on HIV prevalence in the Caribbean. Noting that prevalence is higher where homosexuality is illegal, she detailed multiple barriers to HIV treatment and preventive care, including the mistaken belief among health providers where male-male sexual activity is criminalized that they may jeopardize themselves legally by caring for MSM.

Dr. Radix was followed by JoAnne Keatley, director of the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at the University of California San Francisco. Observing that “the [transgender] community in Latin America is dying,” she described the Blueprint for Provision of Comprehensive Care to Transgender and Transsexual Persons and Their Communities in Latin America and the Caribbean, which she is preparing with Walter Bockting, past president of WPATH, and other collaborators. Carlo Oliveras of ITPC then detailed three of the 70 grassroots HIV treatment access projects supported by ITPC in the Caribbean since 2005, which have focused on empowering individuals in HIV-vulnerable communities, with the guiding belief that “communities know what they need.”

As director of HRC’s Health and Aging Program, I then described the Healthcare Equality Index administered by HRC since 2007, which shows U.S. hospitals how to provide sensitive, stigma-free care to LGBT and HIV+ patients. I was followed by Moises Agosto-Rosario of the National Minority AIDS Council, who shared stories from his own life in encouraging MSM to “think in a personal way” about how HIV-related stigma plays out in themselves and MSM communities, as well as in external contexts. He called for thoughtful attention to “self-stigma,” and noted that external stigma targets not only HIV+ people but also those who support and care for them.

Dr. Chloe Schwenke, USAID’s Senior Advisor on LGBT Policy, closed the evening with a discussion of the sources of stigma. Prominent among them, she noted, is the strong human tendency to “make people the other, which is a particular challenge for transgender people, speaking from experience.” Observing that “focusing on LGBT wellbeing only from an AIDS lens brings about stigmatization,” and that “stigma is not just a health challenge but a human rights challenge,” she urged us to attend both to health and to “wholeness, fulfillment, and community.” These goals, she said, infuse USAID’s list of global LGBT needs, including safe space (“the #1 need”), LGBT-related training, decriminalization of LGBT status, competent services, human rights, and participation and leadership by LGBT people.

Stigma Panel

Attendees at the July 21 panel, included speakers JoAnne Keatley (standing, second from left), Rafael Mazin (standing, fifth from left) and Chloe Schwenke (kneeling, at far right)

To view any or all of these moving talks, visit And learn more about HRC's involvement in the 19th International AIDS Conference at  

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