HIV in the Trans Community: A Reality Check

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A friend of mine emailed me about the HIV infection rate for the trans community shown on an educational poster:

She said that their numbers sounded low.

That’s because they are low. But, before I get into a review of the data, keep in mind that Africa has an HIV infection rate of 5% – yes, 5% – and they get Bono playing concerts for them:

UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2010, page 20.

The study the poster is citing is the NGLTF study. I joked that this study should have been titled “a review of the white online trans experience” since a great deal of the responses were gathered online with 76% identifying as white and only 5% identifying as black. If you’re doing good enough to have a computer and internet access, you probably aren’t facing (to the same degree) the same social pressures that drive the HIV infection rate in the trans community. Even if the privileged portion of the trans community does have an HIV infection rate somewhere  between 2.6 – 4.4 percent, that’s still huge considering that the HIV infection rate in sub-Saharan Africa is 5%.

Now, let’s review the rates other studies found:

  • 35% HIV infection rate: Clements, K. SF Department of Public Health, Department of Public Health. (1999). The transgender community health project: Descriptive results. San Francisco: San Francisco.
  • 32% HIV infection rate: Xavier, J., Bobbin, M., & Singer, B. (2005). A needs assessment of transgendered people of color living in Washington, DC. International Journal of Transgenderism, 8(2/3), 31-47. doi: 10.1300/J485v08n02_04
  • 15% HIV infection rate: Kenagy, G., & Bostwick, W. (2005). The health and social service needs of transgender people in Chicago. International Journal of Transgenderism, 8(2/3), 57-66. doi: 10.1300/J485v08n02_06
  • 27% HIV infection rate: Risser, J., Shelton, A., McCurdy, S., Atkinson, J., Padgett, P., Useche, B., Thomas, B., & Williams, M. (2005). Sex, drugs, violence, and HIV status among male-to-female transgender persons in Houston, Texas. International Journal of Transgenderism, 8(2/3), 67-74. doi: 10.1300/J485v08n02_07
  • 15% HIV infection rate: Padgett, P., & Risser, J. (2010).Transgender HIV behavioral survey (thbs): Pilot study in Houston, TX. Unpublished manuscript, School of Public Health , The University of Texas, Houston, Texas.
  • 22% HIV infection rate: Garofalo, R., Deleon, J., Osmer, E., Doll, M., Harper, G. (2006). Overlooked, misunderstood and at-risk: exploring the lives and HIV risk of ethnic minority male-to-female transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38, 230-236
  • 11.2% HIV infection rate: Stephens, S., Bernstein, K., Philip, S. (2011). Male to Female and Female to Male Transgender Persons have Different Sexual Risk Behaviors Yet Similar Rates of STDs and HIV. AIDS Behavior, 15(3):683-686. DOI: 10.1007/s10461-010-9773-1
  • 26% HIV infection rate: Nemoto, T., Operario, D., Keatley, J., Han, L., Soma, T. (2006) HIV risk behaviors among male-to-female transgender persons of color in San Francisco. American Journal of Public Health, 94(7):1193-1199

Here’s what the CDC has to say:


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Cristan Williams is a trans historian and activist. She started one of the first trans homeless shelters and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice site, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group, is the jurisdictional representative to the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS), serves on the national steering body for UCHAPS and is the Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America.

9 thoughts on “HIV in the Trans Community: A Reality Check”

  1. Look, it’s a two-for. We can “celebrate” HIV awareness and Transgender day of Remembrance at the same time! Let’s not forget to fund-raise when and where we can. Without money, we can’t pay for lazy executive directors of orgs who are good at writing press releases and their staff!
    Gawd, I hope they talk about us at the White house!

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