A light shines on trans issues, but not bright enough
This year is the first time the International AIDS Conference has had a dedicated transgender space, but as several transgender delegates tell GNN, there is still a long way to go to raise the visibility of transgender issues in health and HIV.
Abhina Aher (pictured), from the Global Trans Resource Group and Chair of the Asia Pacific Transgender Network, was added to a 'Stigma and Discrimination' media conference at the last minute on Wednesday, as there was no transgendered person on the panel.
"We are coming out of the MSM umbrella, and for the first time we are talking about the trans movement," the delegate from India told GNN.
"You can see that the trans movement is getting very, very strong for the first time at an AIDS Conference," she said.
A strategic plan around trans issues and HIV was prepared this week, and Aher said there were plans to have a transgender pre conference at the next AIDS conference in 2016.
"We see a lot of people who come to us to govern our programs, and they're not sensitive about trans issues, and some don't even know what trans is."
Within the struggle for greater awareness of transgender issues a the AIDS Conference, Joe Wong, also from the Asia Pacific Transgender Network, told of the further struggles of trans men to be recognised separate from men who have sex with men (MSM).
"We have been advocating for the shift away from MSM because transgender is an identity and not a behaviour.
"In terms of health services, transgender people have different needs and need different access to health care settings."
Wong told GNN there's a problem with the visibility of transgender people at the conference. Human rights, sex work and treatment as prevention, were not addressed as issues for trans men too.
Despite these problems with visibility, Wong added there was some movement at a top level, such as UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation for support.
"UNAIDS has already clearly started having clear indicators for transgender people, and this has not been said enough in conferences.
"Hopefully by telling more researches and scientists that transgender people are a separate population, they might be more interested in working on trans issues.
"It's a very good beginning and I'm glad it's been done", he said.
Sally Goldner, from Transgender Victoria, said the first transgender space at the AIDS Conference was a "massive benefit for both heart and mind to connect with so many people and to share stories is always powerful.
"It's sad it's the first one, but it's here and it's staying," she said.
Disappointment was expressed about the constant use of the salutation 'ladies and gentlemen' which was very binary, and not inclusive, and that there had been "zero mentions of bisexuality" during the conference.
"How about the first ever bi networking zone in Durbin," Goldner said referring to the 2016 Conference.
"I feel it's the same old story, the G and L are very prominent, and we understand why that is and we respect that, but we're not 48 font G, 24 font L and 8 font BTI – we're equal."
Goldner told GNN that it was great to share stories with other transgendered people from around the world who have had the same experiencing the same difficulties.
"The sharing of common experience has been Everest sized, and the learning has been double that, and there's just so many benefits for this conference that would undoubtedly save a trans life somewhere."