Written by Michelle Ross Co-Founder cliniQ, a trans-founded and led holistic wellbeing, sexual health and HIV organization
Last year, I travelled to Bangkok to provide technical input in developing the Implementing Comprehensive HIV and STI Programmes with Transgender People: Practical Guidance for Collaborative Interventions tool, also known as the TRANSIT. Designed for use by public health officials and managers of HIV and STI programs, this tool covers the implementation of interventions across the full continuum of HIV services, including prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care.
Bangkok will always mean “the TRANSIT” for me. It was my first time in Thailand and my first time working abroad on such an important development. TRANSIT is the product of a genuine collaboration with other trans folks from across the globe, working together for a common cause of bringing about change, awareness, and the inclusion of informed services — for us and by us. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in such a development?
You see, put simply, Trans Rights Are Human Rights! Unfortunately, making this a reality across the globe is not a simple process. Violations and human rights abuses are very common in many countries. Some of these abuses, particularly for transwomen, include denied access to HIV services, denied access to gender-affirming hormones or surgery, denied health care and employment, and countless murders of transwomen every year. I tweet and re-tweet about the worldwide abuses of human rights — including stabbings and murders — of transgender people. I am fortunate to live in London, a multiracial, culturally diverse city, and I know several transgender people who moved here from other parts of the world to seek a safer haven. Yet, for many people, that opportunity does not exist.
So why is TRANSIT different for me? Because we began to address the underpinnings of the challenges that face the transgender community:
Silence = Exclusion = Erasure
A very real silence exists in many parts of the world with regards to transgender people, particularly transwomen, their HIV status, overall sexual health, and wellbeing. TRANSIT is about ending that silence, ending exclusion, ending the erasure of transpeople’s health needs. TRANSIT shines a light with real examples of how to change things, and how to set up holistic wellbeing services that are fully inclusive. It is about “no more lip service” as the awesome women of the Global Network of Trans Women say! Who wouldn’t want to be involved in such a development?
At times it feels like I am banging my head against a brick wall when talking about transpeople and HIV in the United Kingdom. Like many other countries, the UK has no official data on transpeople and HIV, no idea of infection rates, and no way to record this data because of the one-stage, binary female/male data system. We need to end the silence!
This is going to change, finally, because of the work we have done at cliniQ with Public Health England. This year we will begin to record detailed information with two-stage data collection at all sexual health services in England. Two-stage data collection gives people the option to say how they see their gender identity and how it was assigned at birth. This approach works across all genders and non-binary people who might not identify with a gender. With this type of data collection, you can highlight very clear issues for all trans people across all areas of health, particularly for HIV. This system is based on the two-stage process that was developed by JoAnne Keatley and The Centre of Excellence for Transgender Health (COE) in San Francisco. A big thanks and shout out to you all! While it’s notable that cliniQ has been using a similar system for some time now, it’s not enough. This system needs to be utilized nationwide. And it will be. After much presenting, training, campaigning, and advocacy, we will finally have a data-collection method that is inclusive of trans and non-binary folks!
So, being in Bangkok with other people who “get it,” who know the issues (and then some), was an incredible experience! These are people who have walked the walk, talked the talk, and who have made huge steps forward for the transgender community. They are people who have genuine stories to tell, and I loved being involved and being able to make great connections with a number of people and organizations. To name some would be to leave others out, but I do want to extend a special thanks to The Asia Pacific Transgender Network for hosting the event in Bangkok. It was a meeting I will never forget! It was like a breath of fresh air, but also much more than that — it provided a real understanding of the work we all have to do in our own countries and across the globe. Because these issues are a global concern — Trans Rights Are Human Rights!