HIV positive women deserve equal access to prevention, treatment, support and care around HIV, says activist Philip Baldwin
BY PHILIP BALDWIN
When discussing issues around HIV, women’s voices have often been ignored and have rarely been heard alongside those of gay and bi men. This is particularly true for lesbians, bi, pan, trans and queer women.
Many people assume that women living with HIV are almost exclusively heterosexual and for decades this is the way research, data presentation and service provision has been organised and structured.
One of the biggest surprises came with the Women Know Best report, released by Positively UK in August 2015.
The study found that 23% of the women who participated identified as bi. This came as a shock to clinicians and campaigners alike, with some even dismissing it as an anomaly.
I hosted an event in Parliament with Silvia Petretti from Positively UK on the topic of women and HIV in May 2016 and it was at this point that I really became aware of the diverse backgrounds and narratives of women living with HIV in the UK, as well as the lack of data in this area.
Invisible No Longer, released by the Terrence Higgins Trust and the Sophia Forum in April 2018, found that 10% of women identified as non-heterosexual, including bi, lesbian, pan and asexual. This report confirmed that when it came to sexuality, women living with HIV could not be narrowly defined or stereotyped.
For many years, trans women living with HIV were barely acknowledged in Public Health England’s annual reports on HIV. We do not know how many trans women are living with HIV in the UK.
Data is provided for gay and bi men – grouped as men who have sex with men (MSM) – heterosexual women and heterosexual men. Thousands of trans women may have been historically recorded as MSM, reflecting the outdated understanding of gender at the time of sampling.
I had really enlightening conversations with HIV positive trans activists Juno Roche and Michelle Ross in 2018. Both Juno and Michelle are associated with the innovative CliniQ at 56 Dean Street in London, which caters for the needs of HIV positive trans people. Outside of CliniQ, some trans people struggle with health professionals, who are baffled when they do not present as the gender noted in their medical records.
Unpleasant stereotypes still linger, in particular that HIV positive trans women are likely to be sex workers. Trans women account for a disproportionately large number of late diagnoses. There is a direct link between the late diagnosis of trans women and the discrimination that they encounter across health services. Some trans women are left distrusting the medical profession.
All HIV positive women, bi, pan, trans or queer, deserve equal access to prevention, treatment, support and care around HIV. Sexual health services need to be tailored to their needs. To achieve this we need better data collection, increased awareness and to move away from narrow categorisations around sexuality and gender.
Check out Positively UK’s website to find out about the support services and events they organise for women living with HIV.
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