Respectfully reaching trans people at risk of HIV

In an effort to reduce the number of people infected with HIV, many global and national strategies include a focus on specific populations at increased risk of infection. In a new study, UCSF Bixby Center researchers argue that the categories we use to identify those at elevated HIV risk are simultaneously vague and alienating for important groups.

Past studies have shown that transgender women are at increased risk of HIV. Although the HIV prevention community is accustomed to the term “men who have sex with men,” this term enforces ideas about gender and sexuality that may exclude transgender women. Even the term “transgender woman” may not help us reach trans individuals in other cultures. For example, in a study in Lebanon among trans feminine people, researchers found there was no equivalent local term for transgender woman, yet participants were recruited to the study based on their understanding of this term.

This study and others speak to the importance of respectfully addressing vulnerable populations at high risk of HIV, especially when they do not conform to gender norms. Health care providers and researchers can do this by learning about and becoming comfortable with a range of sex and gender identities. For researchers, this will help identify the distinct needs of trans people. For health care providers, this will aid delivery of HIV prevention efforts that meet these distinct needs.