The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Transgender New Yorkers Demand 'Place at the Table' to End AIDS Epidemic

By Danielle Tcholakian | December 16, 2015 10:11am
 Members of the AIDS Institute's transgender advisory group spoke at a town hall in Harlem last month.
Members of the AIDS Institute's transgender advisory group spoke at a town hall in Harlem last month.
View Full Caption

WEST VILLAGE — Transgender New Yorkers say the state's efforts to end AIDS by 2020 won't succeed without programs directly targeted to their community.

"There's no way you're going to end the epidemic if you leave us behind," said Sean Coleman, director of the Bronx-based organization Destination Tomorrow, which provides services to and advocates for transgender men.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed an advisory board earlier this year to figure out how to get the number of new HIV diagnoses below epidemic levels by the year 2020.

The board's "blueprint," which will cost billions and was revealed this summer along with a promise of $10 million from Cuomo, pushed for increased supportive housing and preventive healthcare, among other measures.

But transgender activists, particularly people of color, say the plan barely mentioned them, with the word "transgender" appearing in only a handful of places.

After transgender community leaders told the state AIDS Institute about their concerns, Coleman said he and 15 others were tapped by the Institute to be on a task force to make the blueprint more trans-inclusive.

Here's what transgender advocates say should be added to the blueprint:

► Shelters and economic opportunities specifically for trans people

Coleman praised in particular the aspect of Mayor Bill de Blasio's promise, announced on World AIDS Day, to expand the city's HIV/AIDS Services Administration, known as HASA, which provides housing, nutrition and transportation support to New Yorkers with AIDS and symptomatic HIV.

But he wants to make sure the mayor's plan "incorporates trans [people] and that there's some type of funding for trans-specific shelters," as well as "economic opportunities, maybe in the form of job readiness or internships or mentorships to help trans people move from Point A to Point B, to change their [economic] status."

Destination Tomorrow regularly sees trans people for whom inadequate housing, food insecurity and lack of transportation are huge obstacles preventing them from getting testing and treatment for HIV.

Substance abuse programs specifically for trans people

"This blueprint that the governor put out is full of s--t," said Tanya Walker, a transgender woman who co-founded New York Transgender Advocacy Group, at a town hall in Harlem. "We need specific drug programs for trans people."

The blueprint should create programs that are supportive of trans people to ensure they seek and sustain treatment, she said, and it should also address drug problems specific to the community.

For example, crystal meth and crack cocaine have become serious problems for people she knows in the lower-income trans community of color in Harlem and The Bronx, Walker said.

"When the gay white men were using crystal meth, you had signs" all over Chelsea warning of the dangers of the drug, she said. But for transgender people of color "I don't see any posters around, any signs." 

She said meth is particularly affecting trans women who do sex work to survive.

"You have to do it," Walker said in an interview. "If you don't do it, you don't eat, you don't have anywhere to live, you can't survive."

This leads to "unprotected sex with lots of people," she said. "That's another problem that's going to keep AIDS going."

► Funding support and inclusion of organizations led by transgender people

Many activists lament that funding frequently goes to groups, including gay organizations, that don't have transgender people in leadership positions.

"A lot of agencies have 'LGBT' in them and they don't do anything for the trans people — anything," Walker said. "The money doesn’t go to the trans people, it goes to the lesbians and gays."

Coleman and other advocates praised a recent announcement that the Arcus Foundation will distribute at least $20 million over the next five years to organizations with an operating budget of less than $100,000 that are led by trans people.

"I want cisgender [or non-transgender] agencies to understand that we're not asking for a place at the table anymore," Coleman said. "We're taking a place at the table, and they're going to have to learn how to share resources."

► Next steps

There's still a lot of outreach left to be done, and plans are in the works for more town halls and meetings among the task force, Coleman and others said.

The state Department of Health said the AIDS Institute convened the Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming Advisory Group to help them "develop implementation strategies" for the the AIDS blueprint's recommendations.

A state DOH official said the advisory group was first convened in November 2015 and is expected to present its recommendations by early 2016.

City officials said they will also be "partnering closely" with the trans community as they get the various aspects of their own plan off the ground.

In particular, mayoral spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said the trans community is a "key population" in the city's efforts to get healthcare and prevention medication to at-risk people not yet infected with HIV, and to make the city's "health care delivery system" more welcoming to lesbian, gay and transgender New Yorkers.

The state is also targeting trans individuals in their efforts to connect at-risk New Yorkers with PrEP, an HIV-prevention drug.


► Cuomo to Reveal Plan to End AIDS at LGBT Center on Wednesday, Activists Say

► Activists Worry Funding For Cuomo's AIDS Plan Falls Short

► Cuomo AIDS Plan Needs $10 Million From De Blasio, Advocates Say

► Cuomo Plan to End AIDS Epidemic Stymied By State Legislature, Mayor