Highlights from the National Transgender Health Summit

Published: April 25, 2011

What do empowerment, discrimination, data, and health have in common? They are several of the many themes we heard throughout the National Transgender Health Summit that took place in San Francisco earlier this month. The Center of Excellence for Transgender Health (CoE) organized this groundbreaking two-day Summit that brought together healthcare providers, health profession students, researchers, and other health leaders. In past posts we’ve discussed the disproportionate impact of the HIV epidemic on the transgender community, and so this Summit was an important opportunity for us to learn from and engage with experts on this topic. As the White House National HIV/AIDS Strategy [PDF] states, "Some studies have found that as many as 30 percent of transgender individuals are HIV-positive. Yet, historically, efforts targeting this specific population have been minimal."

At the Summit, we heard from government leaders such as Dr. H. Westley Clark, Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and Herb Schultz, Director of Region 9, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and advocates including Mara Keisling , Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and providers such as Dr. Robert Garofalo , Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. These and the other presenters addressed a range of topics that impact the health of transgender people, including mental health and substance use treatment needs, health insurance, health care reform, incarceration, family acceptance, stigma, discrimination, and HIV.

When it comes to HIV, multiple speakers stated there are major health disparities in the transgender community. HIV prevalence is highest among African American transwomen, followed by Latina transwomen . With no national estimate of the number of transgender individuals in the United States, there are many challenges in disease surveillance of the transgender community. However, the CoE and other researchers are advocating for a "two-step model" in future surveys, in which an individual can designate both their current gender identity and sex assigned at birth. This will begin to help researchers reach the full spectrum of trans and gender variant people and assess the burden of disease among trans people so they can design appropriate interventions.

Throughout the Summit, several speakers mentioned The Institute of Medicine’s "The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding"  (check out our recent blog post about it), saying that this report will not only promote health through research, but also advance the public’s understanding about the health of transgender people. As JoAnne Keatley , the Director of the CoE for Transgender Health and the lead conference organizer, states,"Transgender people experience significant health disparities in this country. In fact, regardless of socioeconomic status, transgender people are the most medically underserved population in the U.S. We must rise to this challenge and work together to increase provider awareness of and their capacity to serve trans people health care needs. All Americans are equally worthy and deserving of quality healthcare".

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