Justice Dept. Calls for End of HIV Criminalization Laws

July 18, 2014

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) welcomes Monday’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that calls upon states to eliminate or reform their antiquated HIV criminalization laws, which criminalize conduct by HIV-positive individuals that would be legal if they were not HIV-positive or did not know their status. The DOJ’s guidelines, “Best Practices Guide to Reform HIV-Specific Criminal Laws to Align with Scientifically-Supported Factors,” explain how these laws are contrary to the science of HIV today and how these laws harm individuals and public health by reinforcing HIV stigma.

Over the decades, states have enacted or used existing criminal laws and policies, in the name of public health and safety, to effectively criminalize and silence persons living with HIV/AIDS. For example, state laws have been used to prosecute persons living with HIV when they failed to inform consensual sexual partners of their status—regardless of the actual risks involved or the precautions taken. In other examples, individuals have faced serious criminal charges based on actions like spitting that have no real risk of transmitting the virus.

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New Report: Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People with HIV

May 8, 2014

National Center for Transgender Equality Director of Policy, Harper Jean Tobin, participated yesterday in a panel discussion to mark the release of “A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People with HIV.” This is a groundbreaking report examining the full scope of factors that contribute to disproportionate incarceration of LGBT and HIV-affected people and their abuse behind bars.

With growing bipartisan interest in addressing mass incarceration—for example, the proposed federal Smarter Sentencing Act has the backing of leading liberal lions and key conservative stalwarts alike, and a range of bipartisan reforms are being debated in many states—we hope this report together with NCTE’s recent guide “Standing with LGBT Prisoners: An Advocate’s Guide to Ending Abuse and Combating Imprisonment” will help the LGBT movement play a big role in making big changes.


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NCTE Commemorates World AIDS Day

December 2, 2012

On this World AIDS Day, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) honors those living with HIV/AIDS, and remembers those we have lost. World AIDS Day is an international day of awareness, and a time for renewed commitment toward ending this epidemic.

There are an estimated 34 million people living with HIV, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). While the stigma of the disease is changing, there are still large populations of disproportionately affected people including transgender people, women of color, and transgender women of color. In the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a study of more than 6,500 trans and gender non-conforming people, respondents reported four times the rate of HIV infection compared to the general adult population. These rates were devastatingly higher for transgender people of color: 25% of African Americans, 11% of Latinos and Latinas, 7% of American Indians, and 3.7% of Asian Americans reported HIV infection.

World AIDS Day also highlights the impact on Black women who account for 30% of all new HIV infections among African Americans. “World AIDS Day should be used to honor those who are no longer with us and to educate those who may not know us,” said Valerie Spencer,  trans activist. Spencer added, “With all of those things that Black women carried, they made a way for us to be who we are becoming today.”

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XIX International AIDS Conference: The Beginning of the End?

July 24, 2012

Sunday marked the start of the International AIDS Conference: Turning the Tide Together, being held in the United States for the first time since 1990. This conference allows professionals working in the field of HIV, individuals who are living with HIV, and advocates to come together, share new research from the field and strategize a plan to end the AIDS pandemic. The historic return of the conference to the US was made possible by the elimination in 2009 of the notorious ban on people with HIV traveling to the US.

Findings in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey show alarmingly high rates of HIV in trans people with rates skyrocketing trans people of color:

  • Respondents reported over four times the national average of HIV infection with 2.46% compared to 0.6%.
  • 24.90% of African-American participants reported being HIV positive compared with national rate of 2.4% African Americans
  • 10.92% of Latino/a participants reported being HIV positive compared with national rate of .08% Latino/as.

Transgender advocates from around the nation and the world are sharing strategies, research, and stories at the conference. If you are in the Washington, DC area, you can hear and network from these activists and many others in the conference’s Global Village, which is free and open to the public.

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The Truth About HIV/AIDS Among Trans People

November 30, 2011

As we move into World AIDS Day tomorrow, NCTE’s Mara Keisling said:

“For transgender people, World AIDS Day is a time for both quiet reflection and focused action. The truth is sobering–trans people have contracted HIV at rates four times the national average, with rates especially high among trans women and trans people of color. This epidemic, made worse by harassment, violence and unemployment, spells the tragic loss of trans people around the world.

In NCTE’s groundbreaking National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), conducted with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, our sample of nearly 6,500 trans people reported a 2.6 percent HIV infection rate, over four times the rate of the general adult population (0.6 percent). An additional 8 percent did not know their status.

White House Honors World AIDS Day

Photo by Jamal Brown

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Important HIV/AIDS Prevention Study Included Transgender Women

December 6, 2010

Last week, NCTE focused on HIV/AIDS awareness for World AIDS Day. We recognize that we must focus on this issue year round because HIV/AIDS affects transgender people at disproportionate rates. Transgender people’s HIV infection rates show that there is still much work left to do to eliminate discrimination and improve people’s lives. A recent study included transgender women, which is an important step forward.

Medical researchers around the country have been working hard to provide effective treatments for HIV and AIDS and to prevent the disease from spreading. The scientific community is currently abuzz with news that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) with an antiretroviral medication may be effective to prevent HIV infection for people who are at highest risk for infection. The study that focused on this issue was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It focused on gay men, bisexual men, and transgender women who have sex with men. The study was conducted in six countries.  All study participants were educated on how they can reduce their risk of HIV infection. Half of the participants were given the PrEP treatment while the other half were given a placebo. The medication used was TDF/FTC, whose brand name is Truvada.

To say that the results of the study are heartening is an understatement. The average reduction of HIV infection risk of the study participants who participated in PrEP was 43.8%. However, the results show that the risk of HIV infection dramatically decreased for participants who faithfully adhered to treatment. The participants who took the medication at least half of the time reduced their HIV infection risk by 50.2%. The participants who took the medication every day or almost every day reduced their risk by 72.8%. The survey results clearly show that this medication, when taken consistently in combination with other preventive strategies, can play a key role in preventing HIV infection.

This study is an important step in the right direction. It shows that PrEP may be used as an effective prevention tool against HIV infection for transgender people, combined with traditional prevention methods like counseling and condom distribution. This is especially true for individuals who cannot use condoms consistently. However, we are still in the beginning stages of research. In the meantime, adequate federal and state funding for proven HIV/AIDS treatments, as well as for continuing research, is critical for transgender people, and for the country as a whole.

If you want to learn more, please refer to:

World AIDS Day- What Does It Mean for Transgender People?

November 30, 2010

Red ribbonWorld AIDS Day is fast approaching on December 1st. It is an internationally recognized day to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, reduce stigma and discrimination, and commemorate those who have died from the disease.

NCTE is very concerned about the high HIV infection rates among transgender individuals.  It is well-established that transgender people in the U.S. disproportionately suffer from HIV infection compared to other  populations. NCTE and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s national survey recently found that transgender people are over four times more likely than the general population to be infected with HIV. Furthermore, transgender people of color experience HIV infection at exponential rates compared to that of the general population. For example, African-American transgender people in our survey reported an HIV infection rate of 24.9% while the general population has a HIV infection rate of 2.64%.

People who are diagnosed with HIV experience stigma and discrimination due to a variety of factors. Many people continue to be uneducated about HIV/AIDS and remain fearful that they may be infected by casual contact. Lambda Legal issued a report on HIV stigma and discrimination which found that 34% of individuals had false beliefs about HIV transmission, including mistakenly believing that transmission can occur through sharing a drinking glass, touching a toilet seat, or swimming in the same pool. The same report noted that disclosure of one’s HIV status can lead to wrongful termination from a job, wrongful eviction from one’s residence, denial of services, or assault.

On World AIDS Day, one of the commitments we can make is to review the information HIV/AIDS and make sure we each do our part to eliminate the disease

What is HIV/AIDS?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus which weakens your immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection. You can be infected with HIV and not have symptoms for a long time. During this period, HIV can attack your T-cells or CD4 cells which are key components of your immune system. Over time, HIV can destroy so many T-cells that your body cannot defend itself from infections and diseases. When this occurs, HIV infection can lead to AIDS.

How does HIV/AIDS spread to other people?

HIV is spread when certain human body fluids that are infected with HIV enter one’s body. The following body fluids are known to contain high levels of HIV:  blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, breast milk, vaginal fluids, and rectal mucous. Other body fluids and waste (including feces, nasal fluid, saliva, sweat, tears, urine, or vomit) do not have enough HIV to infect people. The only way that they would lead to HIV infection is if they contain blood and one has considerable and direct contact with them.

How can we prevent HIV infection?

56,000 people in the U.S. become infected with HIV every year. We do not live in a perfect world, so it is sometimes difficult to practice what we already know to protect ourselves against HIV/AIDS.  One way to decrease your risk of HIV infection is to engage in safe sex. “Safe sex” includes knowing your own and your partner’s HIV status and using condoms correctly and consistently. If you believe that you may have been exposed to HIV after unprotected sex, you can take medications to lower your risk of HIV infection (called post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP).  PEP is effective if taken within 36 hours of exposure, so you should go to your local hospital’s emergency room, urgent care clinic, or HIV clinic as soon as possible to access PEP.

How can HIV/AIDS be treated?

HIV/AIDS can be treated through antiretroviral therapy (ART). Many people can lead longer and fulfilling lives due to ART because it reduces the amount of HIV one’s body and allow one’s immune system to remain healthy.

How can I be tested for HIV?

Since people infected with HIV generally do not exhibit any symptoms until they get sick from opportunistic infections, everyone should be tested for HIV on a regular basis. In NCTE and the Task Force’s survey, almost 10% of the respondents indicated that they did not know their HIV status. Usually, HIV tests require a blood sample but some tests use urine or saliva instead. Some tests take a few days for results, but rapid HIV tests can provide results in approximately 20 minutes.

There are many places where you can take a HIV test. To find out where you can do so, please:

  • Visit hivtest.org and enter your zip code for HIV test sites, including sites that offer HIV tests for free.
  • Call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
  • Text your ZIP code to KNOWIT (566947) and you will receive a list of the nearest testing locations.
  • Contact your state or local health department.

Here are some organizations that are dedicated to serving LGBT individuals and provide HIV tests:

  • Los Angeles, CA

LA Gay & Lesbian Center: http://laglc.convio.net/site/PageServer?pagename=homepage or 323-993-7500

  • Washington DC

The DC Center: www.thedccenter.org or 202-682-2245

Whitman-Walker Clinic: wwc.org or 202-939-7690

  • Chicago, IL

Howard Brown Health Center: www.howardbrown.org or 773-388-1600

  • Boston, MA

Fenway Health: fenwayhealth.org or 617-927-6202

  • New York, NY

Callen-Lorde Community Health Center: http://www.callen-lorde.org/ or 212-271-7200

The LGBT Community Center: www.gaycenter.org or 212-620-7310

  • Seattle, WA

Gay City Health Project: gaycity.org or 206-860-6969

For more information on HIV/AIDS, please refer to the following references:

  • Lambda Legal. “HIV Stigma and Discrimination in the U.S.: An Evidence-Based Report.” Nov. 2010



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