D.C.’s Transgender Community Suffers from Lack of HIV Statistics
After this week's post on the state of HIV in D.C., a commenter asked for some current statistics on the HIV/AIDS rate in the District's transgender population. Good luck. D.C.'s Department of Health doesn't track cases based on gender identity in its annual report on the epidemic [PDF], though it does compile numbers on race, gender, Ward, and mode of transmission (ex. men who have sex with men). The CDC also fails to address gender identity [PDF] in its reports.
That's a problem, especially considering that the latest local data available—the DOH-funded 2000 Transgender Needs Assessment Survey—reveals staggering infection rates among trans women. Here's a rundown of that survey's findings:
The decade-old report surveyed 252 District transgender men and women on a variety of factors, including their HIV status. Of locals surveyed, 32 percent of trans women reported being HIV-positive, compared to 3 percent of trans men. (Twenty-two percent of those surveyed were unaware of their status).
More info on how HIV affects the community: Eighty-one percent of the HIV-positive trans men and women surveyed were black. And two-thirds of HIV-positive trans citizens "believe they became infected through unprotected sex with men." A "history of sexual assault, a history of sex work, and unemployment" also contributed to HIV rates in the community.
Also a contributing factor? The lack of public education and concern on how the epidemic affects the trans community. In 2008, Darby Hickey wrote of the invisibility of transgender people in the HIV conversation: "The communities hit hardest are African-American men and women, Lations, and gay and bisexual men of all races. Within these carefully drawn categories, some based on behavioral risk factor and others on racial, gender and sexual classifications, one community heavily affected by the epidemic remains invisible in the eyes of officialdom a quarter century since the first reports of the disease: transgender people."
The failure of mainstream studies to single out trans men and women in its numbers compounds the problem of getting testing, prevention, and treatment resources to that community. "There are no official reports because most agencies do not recognize trans people's existence at all," says Sadie-Ryanne Baker of the DC Trans Coalition. "They usually fold trans women in the 'men who have sex w/ men' category (even ones like me who sleep with women!) which means we have no independent numbers to analyze for trans folks. It also means that most trans folks don't even get tested or get safe sex supplies because all the forms force them to lie about their identity."