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Thailand’s trans women reveal stories of stigma and how it harms the fight against HIV

Thailand’s trans women reveal stories of stigma and how it harms the fight against HIV

  • One nurse put on a face mask as soon as she suspected her trans patient had HIV.
Launch of trans report in Thailand.

Transgender women in Thailand suffer discrimination which results in violence and abuse and stops them accessing employment, education, health care and other social services.

That’s according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in a new study.

And researchers say that stigma and discrimination is also affecting Thai trans women’s health, particularly around HIV.

Renaud Meyer is UNDP resident representative to Thailand.

He said: ‘In Thailand – and globally – [transgender women] are among the most marginalized populations. They experience persistent poverty, social exclusion and poor access to health services.

‘We need to do more to reduce inequalities and ensure good health and well-being for all so that no one is left behind.’

One woman paid for HIV treatment herself to avoid stigma

Researchers found that mothers were more accepting when their children are trans. Meanwhile, fathers and other male relatives are usually less accepting. Moreover, some fathers even tried to change their child’s gender identity by being violent or through verbal abuse.

Most participants hid their transgender identity when they were young. As adults, some of them still pretend not to be transgender in certain situations. In particular, they were less likely to be out as trans at the workplace and with family.

Meanwhile the participants in the study mostly said that stigma for being HIV positive is ‘more devastating’ than stigma about being trans in Thailand.

Even among trans people, HIV positive trans women face being rejected and discriminated against.

The report says HIV stigma stops them accessing HIV testing services and prevention, including PrEP. Moreover, it also makes it harder for them to get treatment. And it makes politicians less willing to invest in tackling HIV.

The study also found that HIV-related stigma is far worse in rural communities than in urban areas.

Indeed, one participant refused to receive government support and preferred to pay for HIV treatment herself in order to receive it far away from her community and thereby avoid stigma.

Moreover, another participant recalled going to the hospital and telling the nurse that she was there to see the HIV doctor. The nurse immediately grabbed a face mask and put it on.

Before, there was ‘no research to back up claims’

The Sisters Foundation helped develop the report, entitled ‘Stories of Stigma: Exploring Stigma and Discrimination against Thai Transgender People while Accessing Health Care and in Other Settings.’

Thitiyanun Nakphor, director of Sisters Foundation, said:

‘Before, the transgender community only had word-of-mouth stories to explain what they have been through. There was no research to back up the claims. With no evidence, it is difficult to take the issue to the policymakers.

‘This is one of the very few studies in Thailand that tells the story of transgender people’s experience while accessing health care services.’