In this era where most of the world is becoming more tolerant, Trans people are still among the most marginalized of the LGBT community.
We face stigma and discrimination at alarming levels particularly for Trans people of color. We are excluded from being a part of our societies because of our gender identities.
As Admin and Outreach Officer for TransWave Jamaica, I am tasked with documenting human rights violations for members of the community. It is shocking the number of reports of discrimination and violence experienced by Trans people in Jamaica.
Trans people are human beings. Humans like myself, yourself, your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, aunt, uncle, nephew or niece.
Trans people in Jamaica are at a disadvantage as they are sometimes prevented from completing school, due to instances of discrimination and violence. We clearly see where there is a pattern of forcing our Trans kids from their homes. Leaving them to fend for themselves, now homeless, neglected, unloved and in most cases violated and hurt. Adopting a nomadic lifestyle is sometimes the only way they can survive doing inhumane and morally deplorable things to make ends meet.
Not being able to gain meaningful employment means that they would be forced to turn to alternative means of sustaining themselves. Members of the community are faced with discrimination from all angles and seek access to resources through alternative means, which makes them vulnerable to HIV. Of course, I am speaking of sex work. We also see large numbers of incidents involving discrimination in this field as sex workers are normally said to be HIV positive. There is also an element of danger as Trans persons have to endure having sex without condoms for additional money.
Access to adequate healthcare is also an issue. Untrained healthcare providers find it hard to approach and deal with persons of Trans experience and identity. For us in Jamaica, we have done some amount of training with healthcare providers. Not at all exclusive but it helps never the less.
I can remember once participating in a conversation regarding sensitization training with doctors and healthcare providers. It was explicitly said by one of the senior doctors that he would not treat a member of the community.
In order to make progress on this issue, I think a standardized approach should be taken to ensure that policies are put in place to prevent doctors and other healthcare providers from discriminating.
Additionally, there is the issue of persons being counted as numbers. This I must add is a big problem for persons of the community. The fact that they are only seen when they are required to be counted in an organization’s ‘HIV response reach’ and ‘test targets’ has been an issue for the community for a long time.
What has worked for us is to build relationships, lasting relationships and ones that will not be solely based on testing and target needs. Overall, the work of NGOs, in my opinion, lacks the psychosocial support needed to communicate with Trans people on a level that will be beneficial to themselves and the operations of that organization.
Extensive training for staff is one main way that I believe can create a change as we find that most staff are sometimes not adequately trained. Simple mislabeling of genders in some cases affect the responses we receive from members of the Trans community. The use of preferred pronouns should be something that is stressed when dealing with Trans people.
I call on all stakeholders to implement policies that will have positive changes to the persons we serve. Health and well-being involve knowing your HIV status. Will we achieve the goal of the 90-90-90 Targets if we continue to neglect our Trans people? The simple answer is no. There is so much more that can be done to make Trans people feel and appreciate themselves.
Above all, there is a constant need for Trans persons to be included. They must be included in all aspects of life and not seen as taboo, repulsive or portrayed as criminals living on the streets and gullies or referred to “cross-dressers”. They must be portrayed as human beings and persons living and existing as who they are.
The inclusion of Trans persons would mean having gender recognition legislation in place to allow us to be able to have our genders legally recognized. We would also need Anti-discrimination legislation as well to provide adequate protection against discrimination.
At TransWave Jamaica, one of our core objectives is the mental health of Trans persons which forms a significant portion of our monthly support group sessions as well as our fitness brand. Additionally, we focus on creating spaces where people feel comfortable and appreciated.
It would also be important to have Trans people and our issues woven into programmes and policies to ensure that the community is fully integrated and represented at all levels.
We urge decision-makers to create policies that reflect full consideration for the humanity of Trans people; this means that Trans and gender non-conforming people are able to update their gender marker on legal documents, access gender-affirming healthcare and social support services without discrimination.
Read PART 1 of this series here.