20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014)


Transgender Services and Clinics: Interviews at AIDS 2014 With JoAnne Keatley and Beatriz Grinsztejn

August 1, 2014

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The following two short interviews are included to complement the review article on transgender issues at the AIDS 2014 conference. JoAnne Keatley is a leading transgender activist and Dr. Beatriz Grinsztejn developed the first transgender HIV clinic in Rio de Janiero.

The first interview is with JoAnne Keatley, director of the Centre of Excellence for Transgender Health at University of California, San Francisco; and co-chair of the International Reference Group on Transgender People and HIV (IRGT).

Hi JoAnne, we are at AIDS 2014 and one of the slides used in many of the transgender sessions shows global rates of HIV in transgender people and also highlights the lack of data from many countries. I wondered whether you could talk about how you captured data in California and why this is important.


It is essential to get a better idea of how many of us exist and then also look at the health issues that are impacting our communities. As trans people, if we are not counted we just don't count.

So as an advocacy point we came up with a standardised way to capture gender variance and trans identities universally across governments and through organisation such as WHO. We are often collapsed with other groups, and we sometimes overlap with other communities, but we have our own specific issues.

HIV impacts transgender communities differently due to the social determinants of health. The stigma and discrimination that trans people are exposed to on a daily basis are the main drivers of the HIV epidemic among trans people.

It sounds tough. You describe life as being vulnerable.

It is very tough, especially when your very existence is criminalised. In many countries, a trans person can be arrested or be a victim of violence, just because of who they are. Many in the trans community are victims of violence from the authorities and from the police. The people who are charged with protecting civil society from harm are often perpetuating the violence against us. We have a lot of work to do.

My impression from AIDS 2014 is that there is more transgender awareness in the programme than at previous meetings.

I agree there are lots of sessions with papers that include references to trans people. The reason for increased participation is because there has been a lot of advocacy from the trans community, to assure we were adequately, or at least better represented, than for example, in Washington DC when there were zero sessions that were specific to trans populations in terms of scientific papers being presented.

Although the International Reference Group for Transgender People organised the trans networking zone in the Global Village -- where we have had many activities -- we have not been as prevalent or as visible in the decision making and policy work that happens inside the scientific sessions.

Sometimes you see sessions about "MSM and transgender people" or "key populations" and they break down the key populations. But although the research may have had some trans involvement, this is not always the case. It is one thing to say a study or trial or even a service programme is inclusive of trans people, but I always want to see the numbers and the level of involvement. I want to know whether transgender issues are just an afterthought, and if so, this is not good enough.

So it sounds like a good goal for future meetings is for transgender issues to be included in more of the scientific and policy sessions?

Yes, and it is time that we consider a trans plenary that has trans people on the panels. It seems crazy that it is not already here after more than thirty years of the epidemic.

What has been your highlight from this meeting?

As always, it has been networking with my own community and being able to move policy makers so we can continue to strive for change. The highlight is always engagement with my and other communities that share in the struggle and supporting each other works, even when these are sometimes baby steps.

Could you talk a little about the service you set up in California. Is it an HIV-specific clinic, or is sexual health and well being?

The Centre of Excellence for Transgender Health is a capacity building assistance and technical assistance provider in the US and beyond. It develops treatment advocacy and educational materials for transgender populations ( We document and disseminate best practices for linking and providing services to transgender communities.

We have a clinic and a medical doctor is part of our team, providing primary care services, but her practice is not specific to HIV.

The Centre is also a collaborative effort between the Centre for AIDS Prevention Studies at UCSF and the Pacific AIDS Education and Training Centre. We put together training materials and educate health providers about services for trans people. We also run one of the largest domestic funded programmes from the US government focused on trans populations, called the Trans Women of Colour Initiative for which we are the evaluation and technical assistance centre.

There are nine sites around the US that are delivering care for HIV positive transgender women, including cross sex hormone therapy, as part of the treatment model and ARVs. There are two clinics in each of NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles and three in the Bay Area, San Francisco.

The clinics are tasked with finding new cases of HIV in the trans community, testing and engaging with these women, linking them to care and supporting them to stay in care, and then tracking the outcomes over time. We are 18 months into a five-year project designed to find the best practice. It is very exciting.

Roughly how many people are involved?

We currently have about 180 women enrolled into care but we only started enrolment seven months ago. I always feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do this work and to give back to my community.

Thank you, you are doing fantastic work.

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This article was provided by HIV i-Base. It is a part of the publication HIV Treatment Bulletin. Visit HIV i-Base's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.

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