Positively Trans Meets at White House, Advocates for Inclusion and Leadership of Trans* Community in HIV Policy

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Tiommi (right) and Arianna Lint (left) at White House, Feb. 10, 2016

by Tiommi Jenae Luckett

Going to the White House was truly something I never had on my radar to do for personal reasons. However, that was years ago when I felt that way. So fast forward and I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion with members of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and representatives from other agencies, alongside several phenomenal trans women and trans men who are recognized as experts.

The discussion started off with a synopsis of the things these lead organizations need to improve on when servicing the trans population. We who are of trans experience are already privy to this information and we voiced our frustrations about the inconclusive and nonexistent data of the trans community living with HIV.

We had to let these agencies know that the trans community is not being counted because trans women are seen as men who have sex with men (MSM) and trans men are counted as women. That is problematic, because these ASOs and CBOs that claim to provide services for transgender people seldom do. We also had to let them know that the trans women in attendance were more than beautiful women; we are also hardworking, dedicated, fierce, intelligent and persistent advocates who demand a place at the table. In essence, nothing about us without us. We made it blatantly clear that funds intended to bridge the gap in disparities suffered by the trans community living with HIV are not being used in that manner, but more for the leadership building of Black MSMs.

I know that we got our points across and were heard. As I told Douglas Brooks, Director of ONAP, that I thought my meeting with members of HRSA last year in Arkansas was a step in rectifying the situation, yet as a trans woman living with HIV in Arkansas, whatever surveillance measures are being used are not counting me. That is a huge problem for me. What we members of Positively Trans who were in attendance actually did was to share the preliminary results of our survey of trans* and gender-non-conforming people living with HIV in the South, since the southern region is often neglected from funding opportunities.

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Support Rights, Respect and Dignity for Trans Women Today and Every Day

Statement of Support for Trans* Day of Resilience

Original artwork by Rommy Torrico for TransLatina Coalition, courtesy of Strong Families
Original artwork by Rommy Torrico for TransLatina Coalition, courtesy of Strong Families

“Every year, we memorialize the lives that were lost to violence. It is time to take advantage of the Trans Day of Resilience to celebrate and honor our communities who have survived the various forms of violence and who have overcome adversities to become who they are. It is time for the trans community to show one another what hope looks like. Positively Trans is here to lift up the leadership of trans leaders who are living with HIV as they personify courage, strength and resilience.” – Cecilia Chung, Senior Strategist of Transgender Law Center, founder of Positively Trans (T+), member of Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN-USA)

This year alone, at least 22 transgender women have been murdered in the US. 19 were women of color. The true numbers are undoubtedly higher, since transgender people are frequently misgendered in police reports and by the media. The average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is only 35 years. Reflecting on these statistics is sobering  — though some progress has been made in advancing lesbian and gay rights, the transgender community has been left far behind, from employment discrimination to discrimination in health care. Just a few short weeks ago, Houston voters voted down an equal rights bill, HERO, in an electoral campaign that was marked by vicious transphobia and vitriol.

In this hostile environment, being one’s authentic self is an act of courage, and practicing self-love is an act of revolution.

“Last month one of the greatest activists in South Florida attempted suicide, was in jail and now is homeless,” says Arianna Lint, founder of the TransLatin@ Florida Chapter, Advisory Board member of Positively Trans and PWN-USA member. “We are coping with trauma. We need support and real help.”

Original artwork by Micah Bazant for the Audre Lorde Project, courtesy of Strong Families
Original artwork by Micah Bazant for the Audre Lorde Project, courtesy of Strong Families

Activists also point to a lack of consistent attention to trans* issues. “Oftentimes we are not even acknowledged in life and we are discarded in death. We are loved and valued by some of our given and chosen families. We just want the opportunity to live in our authentic truth unapologetically without fear of judgment and persecution,” says Octavia Y. Lewis, MPA, a member of the PWN-USA Board of Directors and of the Advisory Board of Positively Trans. “We are more than the one day in which some take to remember those of us that have fallen. People forget to acknowledge those that are still living. We are HUMAN.”

On this year’s Trans* Day of Resilience–and every day–we honor our trans sisters in their struggle and commend them on their courage to live their truth, in the face of such overwhelming violence and antipathy from a society that still has so far to go. We demand policies that honor, recognize, and support trans* people equitably.  We call for economic justice–for an end to the discrimination that prevents so many from using their skills, talents and passions to earn a stable income and support themselves and their families. We call for trans* and gender non-conforming individuals to be counted accurately in data. We call for our trans* sisters not only to be included at the table when decisions are being made, but for their leadership at such tables. And because Black trans women are 50 times more likely to acquire HIV than other adults of reproductive age, we call for the National HIV/AIDS Strategy to immediately identify an accurate metric to track progress for the trans community. We can’t wait.

Updating the National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Vote for the Recommendations Most Vital to Women with HIV!

Can you believe it’s been almost FIVE YEARS since the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) was released in July 2010?

The NHAS is a plan created under President Obama to comprehensively address the domestic HIV epidemic. The first NHAS included four main goals: 1) reducing the number of new HIV infections 2) increasing access to care for people living with HIV 3) addressing population-level disparities in prevention, care and treatment and 4) improving coordination of HIV programs and funding across federal agencies.

The first NHAS addressed some issues which are really important to women with HIV, including repealing HIV criminalization laws and expanding employment opportunities for people with HIV. But it missed the boat on others – failing to mention sexual and reproductive healthcare for people with HIV, failing to talk about the high rates of trauma and violence that impact women with HIV, and not meaningfully addressing the specific needs of transgender women.

Now, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) is soliciting input for the next National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which will be released this summer. This new Strategy (NHAS 2.0) will help to guide priorities for the domestic epidemic, likely for the next five years – which means it will go into the next Administration. It’s critically important that the voices of women with HIV and those who care about us are heard in this process.

The deadline to provide input ends this Friday, May 22nd. Here’s how to provide input:
1. Go to: https://nhas.uservoice.com
You can enter your email address to create a profile.
2. You will see that the opportunity to provide input is grouped into “feedback forums” according to the four goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. You can click on any of the feedback forums to see which ideas have already been proposed.
3. Once you have access to a profile, you have two options:
a. Vote for a recommendation that has already been proposed
b. Propose a new recommendation
You can do both of these.
Note that you get 25 votes per feedback forum. You can vote for multiple recommendations, and you can also cast more than one vote per recommendation.

There are a lot of good recommendations already proposed in the forum. Also, a few weeks ago, PWN-USA released our own top five recommendations for the next National HIV/AIDS Strategy. In line with PWN-USA’s policy agenda and NHAS recommendations, here are just a few of the recommendations which have been proposed on ONAP’s forum that we think are really important. Click the links below to read more about each one. Starred (***) items are drawn from PWN-USA’s five top recommendations!

1. Reducing new HIV infections
a. Lift the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange
2. Increasing access to care & improving health outcomes for people living with HIV (PLHIV)
a***. Develop a minimum standard of care for PLHIV which includes sexual and reproductive healthcare, trauma-informed care, supportive services, and more.
b. Ensure gender-responsive, trauma-informed, coordinated and comprehensive care (this is very similar to the one above).

c***. Announce a national initiative focused on addressing inequity in access to care and poor health outcomes among Black women living with HIV

d***. Launch a national initiative to enhance culturally relevant prevention and care for transgender women
e. Ensure that PLHIV have access to healthy food: “Food as Medicine”
f. Increase and prioritize funding for services that link PLHIV into care
g. Preserve and support women-focused community-based HIV organizations
h. Integrate the work of the Federal Interagency Working Group on HIV and Violence against Women into the NHAS by instituting metrics on addressing trauma and violence

3. Addressing disparities and health inequities
a***. Fund research and development of women-controlled HIV prevention tools
b. Mandate comprehensive sex education in schools, and eliminate support for abstinence-only education
c. Eliminate state-level HIV criminalization laws

Are you excited yet? Ready, set, go vote before this Friday, May 22! (https://nhas.uservoice.com)

AIDSWatch 2015 and the Trans* Experience

By Tommy Luckett

What do you do when you are invited into a space and seemingly forgotten once you are present?

If you happen to be one of three beautiful, intelligent, and outspoken transgender women of color named Tela La’Raine Love, Arianna Lint, or Octavia Yaz-mine Lewis MPA, then you SPEAK UP!

Tommy Luckett.
Tommy Luckett.

It was during the Monday morning’s training session at AIDSWatch 2015 in Washington, DC, when the statistics were given on the likelihood of African-American and Latina women contracting HIV. At that moment Arianna Lint stood up and shouted, “What about transgender women?” Her question was valid, because we of the transgender community know that transgender women of color are 43% more likely to contract HIV than our cisgender counterparts.

Another crucial mistake that was given as a fact was that “transgender” falls under the category of sexuality. It was during the Q & A session that my three trans* sisters stood up with a microphone in hand to explain the difference to the organizers. Being a person of trans* experience is how one identifies his or her own gender. Being a person of lesbian, gay, and bisexual experience is how one identifies his or her sexual identity. The two terms are not synonymous.

While they possessed the microphone, the question was asked by Octavia: “Why was the opportunity to attend AIDSWatch 2015 afforded to members of the transgender community when we were forgotten about once we had arrived and were counted as being in attendance?”

We found it problematic that the organizers deemed it necessary to have transgender representation, but did not allow members of the transgender community to be at the discussion table. In doing so, there was no breakout session planned that highlighted the issues related to being a trans* person living with HIV. Our cisgender organizers made the assumption that they knew what was best for us, but no one asked about our personal narratives.

In effect, our lived experiences were erased and either categorized along with men who have sex with men (MSM) or along with cisgender women. Neither of these assumptions were accurate, because my narrative is completely different from the narrative of cisgender women. Much like the women who in all sincerity have said to me, “You are a woman” or “I have an issue with saying you’re a trans* woman,” they are inadvertently erasing my gender identity. If we in the transgender community are stripped of our trans* identity, then what is the message that is sent out to those who know nothing of the trans* lived experience?

The message is that we cannot think or speak for ourselves, which has been proven to be untrue. We are among those of the brightest minds, and we demand our place at the table. The time for waiting on the respect we so deserve is over.

My sisters demanded that there be a space created for the transgender population in which anyone could attend, so the discussion of our lived experiences could happen. It was at that moment that Michael J. Kaplan stood at the microphone and made a very heartfelt, sincere, and public apology to the trans* population in attendance for what had transpired.

Trans* sisters at a recent organizing gathering in Chicago
Trans* sisters at a recent organizing gathering in Chicago.

Remember, all of this happened during the morning session, and at some point during lunch or perhaps a little after lunch had concluded, the organizers had a room available during the breakout sessions which included the 20 or so transgender women of color and some of our cisgender allies. Douglas M. Brooks, the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, came and introduced himself in our session and said hello to all of those in attendance. It was a monumental time in all of our lives, because our trans* identity was acknowledged and appreciated.

The goal of the space that was created for us was to come up with three asks from the organizers of AIDSWatch as to what we would like to see happen for the next year concerning the transgender population:

  • I hope to see more statistics given on the rate of infection in the transgender community.
  • I hope to see a breakout session that consists of transgender facilitators or moderators.
  • I also hope to see transgender people at the decision making table for the planning of next year’s AIDSWatch.

All in all, the camaraderie and fellowship that occurred at this year’s AIDSWatch is undeniable. I connected with fellow advocates in the fight to end the epidemic, and connected with some new ones. I spoke with my legislative officials and had great meetings. Hearts and minds were opened. Who could ask for anything more?

Tommy Luckett is a Little Rock, Arkansas-based PWN-USA member and an adviser with the network Positively Trans.

Sexual Rights of HIV+ Transwomen

Sexual Rights of HIV+ Transwomen

by Dee Borrego

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I’m puzzled by the question of what the sexual rights of HIV+ transgender women are. To me, as an openly HIV+ transwoman, the answer is as clear as glass. Simply put, our rights to sexuality and sexual expression are the same as any other persons, male or female.

Just because transwomen don’t fit into culturally predefined standards for male or female expression or behavior, doesn’t mean that we lose the right to have an independent sexual identity. It does, however, mean that society at large will view our sexual rights as being less than their own, by and large, and that the general population sometimes needs to be reminded of what equality for all would really look like. With that in mind, here are some points to illustrate how HIV+ transwomen have right to make the same choices as every other person on the planet.

The number one thing that all women and transwomen share is the right to choice in their own life. We have a right, just as every other woman and man, to make the best decisions for ourselves about our own bodies. It’s natural for people to be curious about transgender people, as we’re certainly not the standard, but it does not infer the right to anyone to question a transwoman about her choices and her body. She alone has the right to determine what she does with her body. This includes both sexual partners and her choices on hormones/surgeries.

Living with HIV does not mean a transwoman cannot be on hormone therapy or choose to have any number of surgical procedures done(more on hormones, surgical procedures and trans health here), but these are all decisions that are the individual’s own to make and no one else’s. Some transwomen will choose to take hormones – some won’t. Some transwomen will choose to have some type of surgery – which can include, but is by no means limited to, sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) or breast augmentation – and some will not. Each person has the right to make their own decisions on these matters, and that’s not something generally open for discussion. Nor can anyone tell her what is the “correct” way for her to express herself sexually – this too is her decision.

All women, including transgender women, have the right to determine their own partners, of any gender, without fear or judgment for doing so. There is no “right way” when it comes to sexuality, especially when talking about transgender women. We have the right to that individuality, just as we have a right to the air which fills our lungs. Some transgender women love women, some love men, some love both, and some love neither. The right to love and be loved is not up for public debate. It simply is, and should be accepted as such.

Since HIV+ transwomen may choose to be with women sexually, it’s important that our community has access to comprehensive education around HIV and family planning. This includes having access condoms, as well as supports in place to help HIV+ transwomen make educated decisions around family planning and conception. While being on hormone therapy can cause infertility, it’s not a guarantee that pregnancy could not happen if condoms aren’t used correctly by someone with male genitalia.

Perhaps the more important aspect of condom access affects all people – male, female, and transgender, alike – is that condom access can decrease the likelihood of HIV infection. If HIV+ transwomen have access to free condoms, and are shown how to properly use them, it can help them to be empowered to use condoms with their sexual partners.

Many transwomen find themselves in a situation where they must perform sex work in order to survive. In fact, that’s one of the many socioeconomic drivers which keeps the levels of infection in our community so high in the first place. By providing these women with tools, like condoms, they then have what they need to try to prevent spreading HIV to their clients or from acquiring other infections from them. HIV+ transwomen are often in a position where sex work is the only viable option for self-preservation, and they have the right to protect themselves and others as best they can.

Yet due to the marginalization from society and other driving factorswhich force many transwomen into sex work, many transwomen are victims of sexual violence at some point in their lives. Just like any woman or man who’s been sexually assaulted or raped, transwomen have the right to help in this situation, yet oftentimes the police or other authorities are not considered places of sanctuary and help for transwomen. Many times the police or other authorities have ridiculed or harassed transwomen in need of police assistance, often in times of crisis for the individual transwoman who’s been the victim. The authorities may not believe her, or will subject her to more public humiliations, such as insisting on using inappropriate names, either legal names or otherwise, and in general, further causing more damage to a person who’s already been hurt. In places where HIV disclosure laws also stand, there is even potential for punishment against the victim for not disclosing their status before their attack. These factors, among many others, all contribute to HIV+ transwomen feeling as if they’ve lost their rights to fair and equatable treatment under the law, especially in cases such as rape or sexual assault.

Another way we can choose to protect HIV+ transgender women is through providing clean needle access. Just like dealing with drug addictions, which is also a peril faced by many transwomen, having access to clean needles can greatly reduce the number of infections in a given area. In the transgender community, transwomen will use needles for injecting hormones and if clean needles are unavailable, people will share them, despite the dangers. Reusing needles can be dangerous on a number of levels, and sharing hormone needles is not always viewed or understood by the community itself as being as dangerous a choice it can be.

Perhaps the greatest choice and challenge for HIV+ transwomen is around disclosure. In many states, the laws around disclosure are quite severe,to the extent that it is law in some states to disclosure your HIV status before sex, with harsh penalties for not doing so. Thankfully this is not the case in every state – so be sure to know your local laws. But transwomen also face the challenge of disclosing their gender history to potential partners. This task is never an easy one to do and it can often be filled with hardships and disappointments. Not every potential partner will be able to accept a trans person as a sexual partner, just as not everyone can accept having a sexual partner with HIV, but the right to disclose any part of one’s status should remain with the individual.

Only each individual can know when, where, and how is the right way for them to tell their partner or potential partner(s) about both their HIV status and their gender history. This also means that HIV+ transwomen have the right not to tell everything about themselves to everyone, including their sexual partners. Many times, for many different reasons, disclosing something so personal about oneself, such as being HIV+ or being a transwoman, could put an individual in grave danger. For a community already marginalized by mainstream society, this is reason enough for us to have the right to choose.

Privacy really is the ultimate right for all HIV+ people, transgender or not.We have the right to share our stories, our fears and our experiences, just as much as we have a right to keep them to ourselves. No one should be able to force anyone to overexpose their personal life, especially around matters as personal and sensitive as gender and HIV status. Many people who aren’t living with HIV or who aren’t transgender feel that they will always have the right to fulfill their own curiosity about the differences between us all. And while I celebrate their curiosity, I wish it were more widely known that every human being deserves privacy when it comes to their sex life. Whether or not we choose to be open or to share whatever details we want with other is always, and should always stay, a matter of personal choice.

Resources:
Fire: Sparking the flames in each other
 – An Art/Resource Zine by and for Southern Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Same Gender Loving, questioning Youth and our Allies
Harm Reduction Coalition 
– resources and info on clean needle access, Hep C, HIV, and more!
Positive Justice Project – read more about HIV Criminalization Laws and how they impact people in your state

Transphobia on Philadelphia’s public buses and trains: A Colourful Conversation

Transphobia on Philadelphia’s public buses and trains: A Colourful Conversation with Andrea Lamour-Harrington

By Andrea Lamour-Harrington

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I live in the fair city of Philadelphia, PA – “the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection.” Now let me elaborate on just how loving we are. I am a member of RAGE (Riders Against Gender Exclusion), a group of trans men and women who have banded together to bring justice to our community. The main focus of RAGE is to bring attention to the discrimination against the trans community by SEPTA, Philadelphia’s public transportation system – the only means of transportation for many Philadelphians.

Our trans community is being attacked in a very open and legal way. But may I remind you, that just because something is legal does not make it fair and just. It is SEPTA’s practice to use gender markers, “F” for female and “M” for male, on their monthly pre-paid transit passes. SEPTA is the only public transportation system in the entire U.S. to do this! Their reason? To prevent anyone from sharing their pass with others. SEPTA has made it a practice to humiliate trans men and women by bullying them when they get on the bus in front of other passengers. For example, when a trans woman uses a pass with a “F” but the driver does not believe you are a biological woman, they have the right to deny a passenger a ride if they do not pay a cash fair or use a token. Similarly, if you identify as a female, but your transit pass says “M,” or you identify as male, but your transit pass says “F,” they have the right to deny a ride.

This is more than a trans issue. Since when is it a just procedure to judge anyone based on appearance? Just imagine how humiliating it is to be out-ed in front of an entire bus or train. The fear alone puts trans woman and men in jeopardy of not seeking medical care, not being on time for job interviews, or for work. Every time an HIV-positive person misses an appointment, it puts their life at risk.

RAGE has made a valiant effort to stop this injustice by holding many peaceful demonstrations, writing letters to government authorities, and holding press conferences. Support us by going to our website (phillyrage.org or contact PWN) and becoming a RAGE member, signing our petition, or attend a meeting if you live in Philly!

Andrea Lamour-Harrington is the Community PROMISE Coordinator at the Colours Organization, a leader in PWN-USA, and RAGE advocate. She is based in Philadelphia, PA.