- December 2, 2014
Post submitted by Beth Sherouse, former ACLS Public Fellow, HRC Senior Content Manager
World AIDS Day is a time for us to remember all those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS over the past year and to recommit ourselves to ending the epidemic. This year, HRC is shining a spotlight on the people and communities often overlooked in the struggle to combat HIV and AIDS, including transgender men.
While transgender women face higher rates of HIV infection than any other group within the LGBT community, transgender men also face similar barriers to HIV-related care, yet we rarely hear their stories. Although very little research exists on transgender men and HIV, preliminary reports indicate not only that transgender men who are gay or bisexual are at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but that existing prevention efforts do not address their needs and concerns regardless of sexual orientation.
Achim Howard, an openly HIV-positive transgender man who contracted HIV when he was sexually assaulted, explained there simply “is not a lot of data on trans men being HIV-positive.”
"When researchers study HIV, they will put us down as being female if you were assigned female when you were born, and male if you were assigned male, so trans people aren’t being counted," he said.
Howard wants people to educate themselves about HIV, and he works to educate his community through AIDS-related outreach at his church, and volunteering with local LGBT health advocates at Whitman Walker Health and Casa Ruby in Washington, D.C.
“People are uneducated on what HIV is, how people can live with HIV, and how you can contract HIV,” said Howard. “A lot of people are still scared of people with HIV.”
Stigma and lack of knowledge complicates Achim’s personal relationships. Even though his viral load is undetectable, “women will sleep with me but can’t deal with the stigma of dating a man who is HIV-positive. They’d rather sleep with a guy whose status they don’t know than date a guy who is open and honest about being HIV-positive. Some people don't want to be known as the one who is with someone that is HIV-positive.”
Leaving transgender men out of HIV research and prevention efforts often translates to transgender men unknowingly engaging in high-risk behaviors, particularly among those who identify as gay or bisexual and have sex with non-transgender (cisgender) men.
“I know there are a lot of trans men who sleep with cis men and they’re not being educated on their risk factors or how they can protect themselves,” said Howard.
“I know there are more men like myself out there who are HIV-positive but they’re scared to talk about it and they’re not getting checked out,” he said.
Advocates for the transgender community should let people know about these risk factors, and that “if you have HIV, you can live with it. There’s a lot of stigma with HIV. People need to educate themselves and stop listening to hearsay.”
This desire to educate people about HIV is what drives Howard’s activism.
“I’m just standing up for the trans men who can’t stand up for themselves," he said.
In honor of World AIDS Day, HRC Foundation released a new research brief entitled "Transgender People and HIV: What We Know"and is featuring the stories of individuals living with HIV on the HRC blog throughout this week. Stay tuned for more.