HIV continues to be a major health crisis both in the United States and around the world and affect tens of thousands of people every year. However, some demographic group are more vulnerable to the HIV epidemic because of gender, social, and culture. One of these vulnerable groups is the LGBTQ community.
LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Nowadays, this acronym has transformed into a more inclusive version, LGBTQIA, to provide protection and support for the Queer, Intersex, and Asexual communities.
HIV disproportionately affects the LGBT community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gay and bisexual men are the population most affected by HIV and accounted for 67% of all diagnoses in 2015. CDC also states that transgender women in the U.S are at high risk for HIV.
Multiple cultural and societal factors make HIV prevention and treatment a challenge among LGBT population. Stigma and discrimination has put LGBT population at high risk for HIV infection and transmission throughout the history of HIV.
When the very first cases of HIV were discovered in the U.S. in the early 1970s, poor understanding and misguided homophobic sentiments lead scientists to name the virus GRID—Gay Related Immune Deficiency. Since then, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity created an environment of fear and discouraged many LGBT people from seeking HIV care. By the end of 1981, 270 cases of severe immune deficiency were reported among gay men and 121 of them had died.
Nowadays, HIV/AIDS is a serious health concern for LGBT communities. A 2014 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 15% gay and bisexual men in the U.S. received poor medical treatment as a result of their sexual orientation. At least 30% of them did not feel comfortable discussing their sexual behaviors with a healthcare provider. Homophobia and anti-LGBT bias also cause low awareness of HIV status and halt HIV education among LGBT youths.
The HIV epidemic will not end unless we address health concerns for LGBT populations. We need to educate everyone that HIV is neither a gay disease not a consequence of a person’s sexual orientation so as to create a safe and friendly environment for the LGBT community. Effective HIV behavior interventions need to address the full range of risk factors affecting LGBT people so that they can participate in society and get access to housing, employment, education, and healthcare.
At Aniz, we provide holistic HIV support services, treatment, and prevention for LGBTQIA individuals in a culturally competent manner and developed the LGBT Therapeutic Resources through Uplifting Supportive Treatment (TRUST) program.
Our LGBT TRUST program is committed to providing counseling and social services for LGBT teens and adults who are challenged with mental health, substance abuse, and/or PTSD in an environment of bullying, community or partner violence. LGBT TRUST also offers educational workshops, individual therapy, support groups, family therapy, and substance use counseling.
In addition to efforts made by individuals and agents, government and national health institutions must increase funding for HIV prevention, treatment, and research programs for the LGBT community. Studies indicate that LGBT health research has been underfunded and HIV and health data on transgender individuals is still largely limited and missing. Our national health infrastructure must invest more resources in respond to the HIV epidemic in LGBT populations.
Despite the challenges, we are closer than we have ever been to ending the HIV epidemic in LGBT
communities. LGBT youths have improved health compared with previous generations and CDC and the U.S. government has increased non-discrimination protections as well as improving data collection and research support on LGBT communities. Together, we will fight HIV off and improve the wellness that every LGBT individual deserves.
If you are LGBTQIA or know anyone struggled with seeking HIV health care due to sexual orientation and gender identity, we highly recommend you disclose your health concerns to your healthcare providers so as to receive in-time gender-specific treatment and support services. There is no shame you should feel about yourself. You deserve all the best possible care and a beautiful life no matter what.