HRC Observes National Transgender HIV Testing Day

by Violet Lhant

April 18 is National Transgender HIV Testing Day, a day to acknowledge an important issue affecting our community. According to the CDC, transgender people are 3 times as likely to receive a new HIV diagnosis compared to the national average. One in 20 transgender women are living with HIV, with Black (44%) and Latina (26%) transgender women disproportionately affected. Transgender men, particularly those who have sex with cisgender men, are also at high risk, and more research is needed to understand their medical needs.

To learn more about how HIV affects local communities, HRC spoke with HIV/AIDS prevention and advocacy organizations Howard Brown Health in Chicago, Illinois, and Nationz Foundation in Richmond, Virginia.

According to LeToya Tinch and Fredy Roberts-Ramirez of Howard Brown Health, HIV is very concentrated among the transgender community in Chicago. They stress the need for early intervention to prevent, detect and treat HIV. To prevent “screening fatigue” among the community, they created SouthSide Safe Space at the Broadway Youth Center, an initiative which ties HIV prevention programs to cultural activities such as vogue, modeling, hairstyling, makeup, dance, poetry and photography.

I believe the Trans community is vulnerable to HIV because of the lack of resources, the history of marginalization of the Trans community and the lack of equal job opportunities and hiring of Trans people.”

Fredy Roberts-Ramirez, Howard Brown Health Associate Director of Quality and Best Practices

To reduce stigma around the virus, Howard Brown Health emphasizes HIV screening rather than a pass/fail test. By speaking with the transgender community and acknowledging their needs, HIV prevention programs can provide holistic services to help transgender people thrive.

Nationz Foundation is dedicated to reducing stigma around HIV, particularly in the transgender community. The organization provides free HIV/STI testing and operates a new PrEP clinic, as well as two mobile testing units serving the Richmond area. They know that transgender people are vulnerable due to social determinants of health such as discrimination, unemployment, lack of housing and a lack of transgender-affirming doctors.

HIV is not the death sentence it used to be and knowledge is power. Testing is simple and painless and you can get your results in as little as 60 seconds.”

Zakia McKensey, Nationz Foundation Executive Director

Nationz Foundation’s new PrEP clinic provides clients with a prescription and HIV prevention starter pack upon leaving their first appointment. They are dedicated to finding innovative ways to normalize testing, prevention and support for those affected by HIV.

In 2021, HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative will expand its advocacy in Richmond, Chicago and cities across the country. HIV infection can be prevented through the use of PrEP and PEP — learn more about how to talk to your doctor about accessing PrEP. For those living with HIV, it may be managed with antiretroviral therapy (ART), which suppresses HIV in the body to an undetectable and untransmissable level. Treating HIV also prevents its transmission to others. To find an HIV prevention center in your area, you can use the CDC’s HIV prevention services locator.