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Making Progress in Serving Transgender Communities

We’re beginning to make progress, and one sign of it came over the wire : The federal Department of Health and Human Services Director of Infectious Diseases and HIV/AIDS released a statement that transgender people will have a more prominent focus in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

This announcement in conjunction with today’s inaugural National Transgender HIV Testing Day is a long overdue step towards acknowledging the extraordinary burden of HIV that transgender people in the United States bear. Transgender women have a 34 times greater odds of having HIV than reproductive age adults in the U.S. Research uncovering HIV prevalence rates higher than 30% among transgender women began decades ago, with leaders like Jessica Xavier and Cathy Reback leading the charge  on their respective coasts. Meanwhile, locally in San Francisco, JoAnne Keatley was helping to move trans health and HIV issues to the forefront, both in academia and the public realm. Despite more than 20 years of advocacy to recognize transgender people in national HIV surveillance, programming and HIV testing initiatives, this incredible and resilient community has been largely ignored by the federal government.

An important step forward is being taken this month with the inaugural National Transgender HIV Testing day and the release of the Transgender HIV testing toolkit developed by the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health and their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention partners. Now more community-based organizations (CBOs), health jurisdictions, and HIV prevention programs will have access to state-of-the-art best practices for reaching and providing culturally competent HIV testing services to the transgender community. The creation of a National Transgender HIV Testing day along with the toolkit is a bold move towards increasing the number of culturally competent providers aware of the risks transgender people face for HIV and organizations, both public and private, having mandates to address HIV prevention and care. Most important, these guidelines create accountability to make sure we all step to the challenge to care for our transgender communities.

I could not be more proud that my colleague and former San Francisco Department of Public Health leader, Jenna Rapues, is at the helm of such a historic effort. And I am more optimistic than ever that more national and local efforts will be launched across the country to better serve transgender communities to reduce HIV risk and other health disparities. Kudos to all the leaders in the community and allies who have fought hard to get us to this important place in history!

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