Transgender People in the Caribbean experience gender-based violence throughout their lives, which impedes their access to services and contributes to poor health outcomes and quality of life. When visiting a health care facility, they are more often than not met with emotional abuse from the parking lot to the door. These abuses include gossiping, insults, and refusal to use their chosen name. Trans people continue to experience economic, physical, sexual violence, and other human rights violations based on their gender identity and expression. They suffer physically threats, assaults, harassment and are often denied services.
Access to Mental Health services is mostly nonexistent unless you have the financial means to access this service privately. In the Caribbean, Trans people are the lower priority and receive substandard care. Healthcare workers often blame Trans people for their health problems and deny them services. Service providers have not only failed to meet the specific needs of Trans people in the Caribbean but also discriminate against them when they seek services.
Although international and regional resolutions call for the legal protection of Transgender people, states do not meet these obligations. To respect, promote, and fulfill Trans women’s human rights, governments should enact and enforce anti-discrimination and gender-affirming laws and policies. Health care workers need to be sensitized to deliver gender-affirming services for Trans persons in the Caribbean.
As a human rights advocate, it is not uncommon for me to hear Caribbean Transgender people speak of negative experiences at healthcare institutions. Many persons often recount ordeals of dirty looks in the waiting room, being harassed by other patients, and even being subjected to on-the-spot preaching and judgmental reproach from nurses and doctors when it is revealed that they engage in sexual intimacy with persons of the same sex or both sexes.
The effect is often more felt by members of the Transgender and Intersex communities whose bodies and experiences are not fully understood by the public and often come under intrusive scrutiny.
In the case of Transgender persons, oftentimes the stigma inflicted by health care workers is rooted in the belief that one is “tampering with God’s creation” by transitioning to live as the sex or gender not assigned at birth. The resulting discomfort, which many Trans and Intersex people face, will result in a reluctance to seek medical attention unless it is absolutely unavoidable, such as in a life-or-death situation.
In some cases, persons would still try to avoid seeking medical attention under those circumstances. This sort of attitude even causes individuals to place their health care needs lower on the totem pole of priorities. They engage in risky behaviors for the sake of other priorities, for example, Transgender sex workers place their financial bottom line ahead of HIV and STI preventative or even post-exposure care or treatment.
We need to correct this harmful behaviour. We need our policymakers to stand by us.