The International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV) is an annual celebration of trans pride, awareness and visibility. As history shows, visibility doesn’t come easy for many in the global HIV response due to discrimination, systemic oppression and violence our communities face. While Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20 focuses on commemorating the suffering and loss the trans community has endured over the decades, TDoV focuses on celebrating the representation of the trans community in all parts of society. It also calls for direct action against dehumanising laws that prevent trans and gender-diverse people from accessing fundamental human rights and much-needed services, especially healthcare.
In 2021, UNAIDS set ambitious targets of reforming laws to remove criminal laws undermining the HIV response and leaving key populations behind. Having acknowledged that decriminalisation is a critical factor in the HIV response, countries committed to the target of having less than 10% of countries having punitive legal and policy environments that affect the HIV response by 2025. Yet, as of 2023, 67 countries criminalise the LGBTQ+ community, which hinders the community’s visibility and equal participation in society.
The risk of acquiring HIV is 13 times higher among transgender and gender-diverse people than among the rest of the adult population. The paucity of data on young transgender people is a barrier to providing adequate health and psychosocial services tailored for them in line with the differentiated care recommendations of the World Health Organisation. Youth-led networks continue to provide these services to their communities, and the inclusion and visibility of young transgender people in these networks, in all their diversity, are critical to the HIV response.
The existence of punitive laws against the LGBTQ+ community continues to stifle the progress of eliminating AIDS by 2030 as they act as human rights barriers to accessing quality healthcare services. Trans-feminine people are heavily affected by HIV and experience greater risk, although trans-masculine people continue to be under-researched and even less included in clinical trials. As an already marginalised group, further sanctions on trans and gender-diverse community’s right to access healthcare violate international human rights.
Countries that criminalise key populations saw less progress towards HIV testing and treatment targets over the last five years—with significantly lower percentages of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status and achieving viral suppression than in countries that avoided criminalisation. There were more significant gains in countries where laws have advanced human rights protections, particularly those that protected rights to non-discrimination and responded to gender-based violence.
The transgender and gender-diverse community need to have their health rights protected, and their right to health should be unrestricted and free from stigma and discrimination. If we want to end AIDS by 2030, decriminalisation and visibility are crucial factors in achieving that goal and saving lives.