New Grant Will Help Study HIV in the Trans Community

Trans women of color face highest rates of new HIV infections

A San Francisco agency was recently awarded a grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation to study HIV/AIDS in the transgender population.

The Transgender Law Center, based in San Francisco, received $200,000 in a one-year project to explore the disease in this community.

“We believe that HIV is actually an end result of the complex discrimination and harassment and stigma that transgender people face daily, so if we can actually take a deeper look into that, we would have better recommendations in how to prevent this from continuing to happen,” said Cecilia Chung, senior strategist at the Transgender Law Center.

The law center isn’t looking to add more services and programs, but rather study the root causes of HIV infection in transgender people. Ideas that they’ve suspected all along — that transgender people fare better in metropolitan areas, that discrimination leads them to resort to certain behaviors for survival — can finally be confirmed with thorough studies and feedback from the community.

Chung noted that when a person is not in a safe environment, namely not having economic and housing security as well as a sense of self, people are more likely to make unhealthy choices. Couple that with physical and emotional abuse that transgender people can face, it can lead to self medication that increases their chances of contracting HIV/AIDS.

“We really need to go deep into the root causes of that, and the only way to do that is really to engage transgender people living with HIV in a more meaningful way so that they can use their stories as a tool for efficacy,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no uniform way of collecting data for the numbers of transgender people with HIV/AIDS, so an exact number is unknown. However, it is known that transgender people have the highest levels of new HIV diagnoses, especially transgender women of color.

Knowing this, the Transgender Law Center is hoping to create an eight- to 10-member panel of transgender people with HIV, particularly women of color, from around the country. Also, because there are less resources and more discrimination and stigma of transgender people in the South and rural area, the law center is hoping to hear from people living in those areas.

“Across the globe, not just in the U.S., transgender people are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic,” Chung said. “Also, the method of collection data has not been very consistent and so a lot of times transgender people are not being counted correctly. We’re trying to change all that.”

Over the next two months, the Transgender Law Center is putting out a call for application for transgender people living with HIV/AIDS across the country to be a part of the panel. Chung hopes that although the grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation is only for one year, that getting a panel together can help grow the project to a long-term study. Anyone interesting in being a part of the panel, especially transgender women of color living in the South or rural areas, are asked to contact Cecilia Chung at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“The first year is a lot of the planning process and to really identify ways to support people’s leadership,” she said. “Because there’s many layers of work that we need to engage in, we would be able to continue to identify additional partners so that this project can sustain.”

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