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The Current State of HIV Among LGBTs

The Advocate culls the latest facts and figures on HIV and the entire LGBT population.

BY Daniel Reynolds

November 30 2012 4:05 AM ET

HIV in Transgender People
Although there is a current paucity of information concerning HIV in the transgender people, recent data indicates that the virus is widespread, a crisis that demands greater national attention.

In 2009 the CDC funded an HIV testing program for 2.6 million people. Of the 4,100 people who identified as transgender, 2.6% tested newly positive. By contrast, 0.9% of nontransgender men and 0.3% of nontransgender women received newly positive results. But the problem could be even more severe. One finding, compiled by aggregating four studies, showed numbers as high as 27% in transgender women.

Research also indicates that black and Hispanic transgender people have disproportionately high rates of HIV. In a separate study conducted in New York City (2005 to 2009), nearly 90% of transgender individuals newly diagnosed with HIV were members of these minority groups.

There are many challenges unique to transgender people. Although every LGBT person is subject to the psychological consequences of social stigma and discrimination, studies show the suicide rate of transgender people to be nearly 25 times the rate of the general population. According to a 2011 report compiled by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide.

Depression feeds into substance abuse, which in turn leads to high-risk sexual behavior. According to the survey in New York City, 50% of transgender women had a history of substance abuse, homelessness, sexual abuse, and prostitution. Moreover, the CDC points to the insensitivity of health care providers as a major obstacle to treatment and prevention.

HIV in Bisexual Women and Lesbians
According to the CDC, there are no confirmed cases of HIV transmission resulting from women having sex with women (though we know of some, anecdotally). However, there are other risk factors, including drug use and risky sex with men, that cause HIV infections in women. Major population studies, including one in American Psychologist, observed higher rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse in lesbians, which manifest from social stigma and contribute to these behaviors.

By December 2004 the CDC reported a total of 246,461 HIV-positive women. In this group, 7,381 claimed to have sex exclusively with women. The CDC does not negate the possibility of sexual transmission between women, pointing to glaring holes in the review process, in which there is simply no cause of infection listed for 60% of these women. The organization also warns about means of exposure for women having sex with women, including torn tissues, menstrual blood, and vaginal secretions.

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