Centering Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Voices in Public Health

“Gender affirmation is a determinant of health” – Asa Radix, MD, MPH, FACP, AAHIVS

by Mahri Bahati, Public Health Advisor

Earlier this November, MSMGF staff participated in the 2017 National Transgender Health Summit, hosted by the UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health. Over the course of three days which included 84 break-out sessions, five plenaries, a poster session, and two films, attendees were able to gain cutting edge clinical knowledge from leading experts as well as first hand knowledge from the shared experiences of trans community members.

For the first time in the history of the summit, a Community Track of 29 breakout sessions was offered. The Community sessions provided a unique forum for trans and gender diverse people working in health professions to strengthen leadership skills. Attendees were able to discuss issues and share perspectives that can only come from the lived experiences of those who work in the field and belong to the community as well. In order to defray the costs of attending the summit, over 130 scholarships were given to members of the trans community, including the National Advisory Board for Positively Trans, a US based network of trans people living with HIV/AIDS. An award of recognition was also given to JoAnne Keatley of IRGT for her dedication and substantial contribution to domestic and global transgender health.

The opening plenary gave a broad overview of the current state of Transgender Health Science and helped set establish a theme that ran through the entire summit: that gender affirmation in all its forms is a determinant of health. Whether social, psychological, medical, or legal, when transgender people are affirmed in their identities, they are more empowered to take control of their health and rights. The presenters also guided the audience through the development process for transgender health guidelines, stressing the importance of including transgender and non-binary consumers and healthcare providers in these teams.

MSMGF Senior Research and Programs Advisor, Sonya Arreola, PhD, MPH, presented on behalf of an MSMGF partner Doan Thanh Tung, whose research on the barriers to accessing health care services facing transgender women in Vietnam was accepted as a part of the break-out session on Trans Research in International Settings. The common themes of exclusion, lack of knowledge of transgender health care, and being underserved by traditional MSM organizations were shared among participants.

Overall, the summit was the perfect kick off for the 2017 Transgender Awareness Week. With visibility comes vulnerability, as evidenced by the national efforts to pass bathroom bills and the backlash for trans rights in healthcare over the last few years. There is much to do all over the world, and a step forward may even be followed by two steps backwards. This summit was proof that if we continue to center the voices of  trans people we are powerful beyond measure.

About MSMGF:

MSMGF is an expanding network of advocates and other experts in sexual health, LGBT/human rights, research, and policy, working to ensure an effective response to HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men. We are directly linked with more than 120 community-based organizations, across 62 countries.