National Transgender HIV Testing Day is observed each year on April 18. It’s an opportunity to focus on HIV testing, prevention, and treatment among transgender people. It encourages local testing events and testing campaigns to increase HIV status awareness in transgender populations.
Achieving Together spoke with Carter Brown, Founder and Executive Director of Black Transmen, Inc. and a project lead for the Texas Transgender Alliance.
Why focus on Transgender HIV testing?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), transgender individuals are disproportionately affected by HIV. From 2009-2014, 2,351 transgender individuals were diagnosed with HIV in the United States. About half of those people live in the South. Stigma, discrimination, and exclusion can be barriers for trans-people in accessing HIV testing, prevention, and treatment. We need to be able to look at the data from the CDC and from the Texas Department of State Health Service and have a conversation about why transgender people of color are most affected by HIV.
What is the Texas Transgender Alliance Project doing to connect transgender people to resources?
The Texas Transgender Alliance is building a network of resources to link the transgender community to the care, support, and services they need to thrive. We want to know which groups in Texas are actively working with the transgender community and what they are doing. We want people to know where they can find the full circle of resources – everything from spirituality (e.g., trans-friendly and affirming churches) to mental health (e.g., therapists, counselors, support groups) to physical health (e.g., transition related care, endocrinologists, family practice doctors, and gynecologists).
Then, we can create and share a database of resources to let people know where they can find affirming care, services, and support.
We’ve been talking to people in the trans-community and asking them to share their challenges and also where they have found services. We talked to medical providers to learn about what they need to provide trans-friendly care. Now we are moving into a phase to implement a community needs assessment. We will be surveying community members to find out what the needs are for the trans communities in Texas.
What stood out in the first phase of your research?
First, the lack of resources. In the South, it seems like the resources aren’t as available as they are in the North and on the coasts. In Dallas where I live, there is more access than in other parts of the state. In rural areas—West Texas and South Texas—resources are minimal. The only trans-led groups are support groups where people are getting together to have community. We want to link people to the resources they need. It’s not just about health care. People need other support. For example, how to change their name or how to find a trans-friendly therapist so they can begin the process of transition.
Where do you hope to be a year from now in this work?
I would like to see that, because of the work of this project, we have opened up more conversations about health disparities in HIV as it affects the transgender community. I’d like to see more data available. I want to see more for the trans advocates that want to educate the medical health providers and I’d like to expand the reach of medical health providers.
What do you want providers to know about creating safe and affirming spaces for their transgender clients?
It’s critical to have culturally competent care for the transgender community. If it’s not available, people won’t seek health care until it’s almost too late, until the illness is taking over rather than regular maintenance care. The lack of culturally competent care is a part of the reason why the numbers of are increasing.
What are some things providers can do to create a welcoming environment?
Safety starts at intake. A welcoming front desk is imperative to setting the tone. Then, look at intake forms. Give individuals the ability to put their preferred pronoun and preferred name– this affirms that you are interested in addressing me as a person as I identify myself. It says “trans” is welcome here. Educate staff on trans-identity, pronouns, and names. Finally, medical providers have to put their personal feelings aside. Treat the body of the client as needed. Show every person a level of respect that will encourage that person to seek care more.
What can people do to advocate for the trans-community?
I believe that every person has a passion about something and it starts there. Identify what you have a passion for and what your skill set is. Identify the issues – it could be trans-youth, eradicating homelessness within the trans-community. There are so many needs for the trans community. There is something that everyone can do. I would love to see this project be a beacon for all organizations to advocate for trans-community.
You have an event coming up. What do you want people to know about it?
The Black Trans-Advocacy Conference (BTAC) will be held in Dallas, TX, from April 23-28, 2019. This is the 8th year of this national conference. People come from all over the world and it’s become like a homecoming or retreat for so many. There will be workshops on health and leadership, entertainment, a chance to honor advocates, and lots of family time. The conference offers the organic empowerment of being together.
Thanks for your time, Carter. Is there anything else you’d like people to know?
I want to reiterate that the respondents of
the work that we’re doing—the members of the trans-community—these are the
medical clients. Their feedback is utterly important to improve the services
offered. We are building networks of resources and then linking people to
resources and groups. Ultimately, we are saving lives.
For more information about the Black Trans-Advocacy Conference or to register, visit Btac.blacktrans.org.
In this video Deja Re shares the importance of HIV testing for the trans-community.