Trans Women Speak Out Against HIV Stigma

In just one year, three of Phoebe's friends died from HIV-related complications.

“They made a conscious decision not to take the medication because of the stigma around being HIV-positive," she says in an interview for an important new video series, Empowered: Trans Women & HIV. "Stigma plays a big part with people. And I think that with them, they allowed it to control their lives, period."

Phoebe, a trans woman who is HIV-negative, is just one of six women featured in the series, which is part of the Kaiser Family Foundation's Greater Than Aids campaign. The goal of the series is to shed light on the impact that HIV has on the trans community, and to help trans women take charge of their health in a society that unfortunately still isn't entirely accepting of trans people, and on top of that, isn't always open about HIV.

Through individual interviews and roundtable conversations, the group (some of whom are currently living with HIV, and some of whom, like Phoebe, are not) discuss how HIV — and the stigma around it — has affected their lives.

“Being black and being trans, we are disproportionately affected," Phoebe says in her interview. "And because I think it goes so under the radar, and it’s not spoken about enough, we suffer exponentially."

Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, transgender women are at higher risk for HIV than other groups in the U.S., with trans Black women facing the highest likelihood of infection, compared to white or hispanic trans women.

What's worse is that many trans women are not getting proper health care due to the judgement from society and the fact that too few medical professionals are well-versed in trans issues, Phoebe explains.

JoAnne, another woman featured in the series, recalls a friend who died from HIV complications due to lack of health care. "Her doctor told her that he could not treat her for HIV and give her hormones. And so she died in a room by herself, alone," she says. The truth is that it is totally safe to take HIV medication while continuing hormone therapy; the rampant misinformation shows how desperately needed this conversation is.

Visit Greater Than's website to find out more about the campaign as well as places you can get free or low-cost HIV testing.

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