The most important way to include transgender individuals in HIV prevention, treatment and other activities is to make that population feel welcome and respected, panelists said in a recent webinar sponsored by Positive Action Southern Initiative, a program by ViiV Healthcare. Panelists represented two HIV organizations that receive grants from this program, Someone Cares, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia, and Brotherhood, Inc. in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Creating a space in which transgender persons feel accepted requires not only handling practical issues, such as gender-neutral restrooms, but also addressing the stigma and lack of safety trans people experience in their daily lives, speakers said. To that end, Brotherhood established Dollhouse, a safe space that provides HIV services, as well as job readiness training, laundry facilities and other services to the trans community. The two organizations also provide street outreach, social support and HIV testing for those held in the local jail, linkage to care and social services for those recently released from incarceration, and help in finding trans-friendly health care and other providers.
In addition, Someone Cares organizes an annual National Trans Health Conference that brings together health care providers, social workers and members of the transgender community to provide cultural competency training and capacity building for medical and social service professionals. Such relationships with people outside the trans community are another important aspect of working in this field, speakers emphasized. Relationships with local police departments, correctional facilities and emergency personnel offer an opportunity to make these professionals aware of trans people's specific needs and to provide cultural competency training. The panelists noted that such training should also be offered to employers in order to create more trans-friendly work places.
An organization's relationship with the justice system is especially important, said panelists, because police stops and arrests for sex work are common in the trans community, whether or not people are actually sex workers. For those who are engaging in sex work, both condom negotiation skills and tips on precautions -- such as "working in pairs" -- are important tools for safety provided by these organizations. Conversations about healthy and unhealthy relationships, HIV transmission and prevention basics and taking pride in one's gender identity and expression are other ways to support sex workers.
However, before deciding which services transgender people might need, ask the community, panelists advised HIV organizations. Include trans people on advisory boards; identify the gatekeepers in the trans community and work with them; conduct focus groups and use social media to find out what transgender people need. Then plan on meeting those needs, the panel concluded.