TRANS­GEN­DER, CHILD& HIV-POS­I­TIVE PRE­PAR­ING FOR A

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Na­dine Wil­son-Har­ris Staff Reporter

AS A HIV-pos­i­tive trans­gen­der youth, 22-year-old *Tory be­longs to the at-risk group that is con­sid­ered to be most in need of in­ter­ven­tion if Ja­maica has any hope of see­ing fur­ther re­duc­tions in the num­ber of per­sons liv­ing with HIV/AIDS. Ac­cord­ing to a study that was re­leased last week by the Ja­maica AIDS Sup­port for Life (JASL), trans­gen­der per­sons who are HIV-pos­i­tive are more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence home­less­ness, stigma, forced sex and phys­i­cal vi­o­lence. Of the 71 trans­gen­der par­tic­i­pants polled, more than 52 per cent were in­volved in sex work for ac­com­mo­da­tion and food, among other things.

“Now we are see­ing where they are at in­creased risk more than gay men, and more than sex work­ers, of course, and so it’s re­ally just about how we are go­ing to en­sure that our pro­grammes are at­tend­ing to the needs of these per­sons,” said ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of JASL, Kan­dasi Lev­er­more.

A UNAIDS re­port ahead of the com­mem­o­ra­tion of World AIDS Day on De­cem­ber 1 warned that 15-24 years is a dan­ger­ous time for women. It noted that an es­ti­mated 45 per cent of all new HIV

Be­ing 16 and a sex worker, you get more clients be­cause you are young, be­cause you are new, be­cause they like young peo­ple be­cause they think you are not very smart. But I was very smart.

in­fec­tions glob­ally in 2014 were among mem­bers of key pop­u­la­tions and their sex­ual part­ners, and warned that new HIV in­fec­tions are con­tin­u­ing to in­crease among peo­ple who in­ject drugs and men who have sex with men. The re­port went on to say that HIV was not de­clin­ing in sex work­ers and trans­gen­der peo­ple.

Tory, a male who iden­ti­fies as a fe­male, has found him­self in sev­eral of these cat­e­gories. He be­came home­less at 16 years old and be­came a sex worker shortly af­ter to pro­vide for him­self. His clients were mostly pro­fes­sional men, and at 18, he de­cided to go and live with a po­lice of­fi­cer who he said was a “reg­u­lar buyer”. He said he con­tracted HIV from the law­man.

“Be­ing 16 and a sex worker, you get more clients be­cause you are young, be­cause you are new, be­cause they like young peo­ple be­cause they think you are not very smart. But I was very smart. Why I was home­less is be­cause I was kicked out of high school be­cause of my sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion,” he told The Sun­day Gleaner.

MIS­TREAT­MENT AT CLINIC

He said due to the mis­treat­ment he re­ceived at the first clinic he vis­ited af­ter his di­ag­no­sis, he did not take any med­i­ca­tion for the first year. He, how­ever, went to a dif­fer­ent clinic where the at­ti­tude of health pro­fes­sion­als was bet­ter, and he has since seen vast im­prove­ment in his health. He said he is now fo­cused on be­com­ing sta­ble be­cause his great­est de­sire now is to have a child, al­though he ad­mit­ted that he had never had sex­ual in­ter­course with a woman.

“I am gay be­cause I won’t be in a long-term re­la­tion­ship with a woman,” said Tory, be­fore ex­plain­ing that he is open to hav­ing sex with a woman for the sake of hav­ing a child.

“I want a child with my genes. Adop­tion is so hard in Ja­maica at this point. She can be a les­bian or she can also be pos­i­tive and vi­rally sup­pressed, like my­self. So there is a lot of hope to get a child if I want a child when I am ready,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased re­cently by JASL, which was funded by the Cana­dian In­sti­tute of Health Re­search, there is very lit­tle knowl­edge about the HIV preva­lence among trans­gen­der women in Ja­maica.

How­ever, the Na­tional HIV/STI pro­gramme noted that, “In con­trast with the es­ti­mated HIV preva­lence of 0.4 and 0.5 per cent re­ported in ado­les­cent girls and boys aged 15-19 at the

na­tional level through the UNAIDS 2014 es­ti­mates, the HIV preva­lence among gay and bi­sex­ual ado­les­cent boys is es­ti­mated to be 14 per cent, while HIV preva­lence in trans­gen­der ado­les­cents is es­ti­mated to be 27 per cent.”

Re­nae*, who came out as a trans­gen­der at 21 years old, said he is con­cerned that HIV is high­est among trans­gen­der youths, and blamed this on the fact that those who adopt this life­style were of­ten stig­ma­tised or forced to en­gage in trans­ac­tional sex.

“Be­ing gay is a taboo, but be­ing trans­gen­der is a greater taboo, and be­cause of that, you have a lot of par­ents who ac­tu­ally do put out their chil­dren for these type of things, and you are out on the streets, you have no for­mal ed­u­ca­tion, you have no way to re­ally pro­vide for your­self,” he said.

“So you have to come up with means and ways to pro­vide for your­self, and one of those meth­ods is to be­come prey to sex­ual preda­tors out there, or to of­fer your­self up as col­lat­eral, and of­ten­times it is to per­sons who maybe know that they have the virus, but they don’t care.”

Al­though Re­nae was born male, he iden­ti­fies as a fe­male and is now an ad­vo­cate for those liv­ing in the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity. He be­lieves that while there have been im­prove­ments in ac­cess to treat­ment for those who are HIV-pos­i­tive, stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion are still forc­ing some to go un­der­ground in­stead of seek­ing help.

“That’s why I work so hard within the health sec­tor to make things bet­ter for trans peo­ple on a whole,” he said.

[* Names changed to pro­tect iden­tity]

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