World AIDS Day recognizes the everyday lives and particular struggles of people around the world living with AIDS and HIV, but one population has been long overlooked. According to recent findings from the World Health Organization that analyzed data from 15 countries, transgender women are nearly 49 times more likely than the general population to contract HIV. This means that, just for being who they are, they are part of the population at highest risk for acquiring HIV.
But according to advocates, the transgender community’s HIV problem remains an “invisible”epidemic, as trans women are too often ignored in health advocacy, stigmatized for their diagnosis or criminalized.
Mic spoke to the Human Rights Campaign’s Noël Gordon, a senior specialist for HIV prevention and health equity, who argued that transgender women “find themselves at the eye of a perfect storm” when it comes to contracting HIV. “A number of factors are largely out of their control that push them into situations where they’re more likely to encounter HIV and less likely to be able to treat it,” Gordon told Mic. These factors include transphobia and poverty, as trans people are nearly four times more likely to earn less than $10,000 a year.
Employment and housing discrimination are major factors that push transgender women below the poverty level. According to statistics from the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans people face widespread bigotry both in the workplace and from landlords, as its survey indicates “26% of trans people lost a job due to bias, 50% were harassed on the job [and] 20% were evicted or denied housing.” In many states in the U.S., it’s still legal to fire or evict someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Gordon explained that without employment and housing protections, many trans women engage in survival sex work in order to support themselves. “Through no fault of her own,” Gordon said, “she’s been pushed into a situation where in order to support herself, she effectively has to put herself at risk for contracting HIV.”
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