Today marks National Women and Girls HIV & AIDS Awareness Day, an opportunity to focus our attention on the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls in the United States. Additionally, we honor today in tandem with Women’s History Month, recognizing the women who have fought against the HIV & AIDS epidemic as well as the many living with HIV.
Before becoming Director of HRC’s Children, Youth, and Families Program in 2005, Ellen Kahn spent 13 years working at Whitman-Walker Health, a Washington, D.C. community health center specializing in HIV & AIDS and LGBT care. She had various roles, including Director of the Lesbian Services Program.
“Early into the HIV epidemic, lesbian, bisexual and queer women sprang into action to take care of their gay and bisexual brothers and friends,” she told HRC. “Women must continue to step up and step into conversations about sex and sexuality to model for girls and young women the importance of sexual health and well-being, to promote agency over one's body and to underscore the importance of making comprehensive, LGBTQ-inclusive sexual health education and care available to all.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 25 percent of all people living with HIV in the U.S. are women. The most common method of HIV transmission among women is heterosexual sexual contact. Of all the women living with HIV in 2011, only 45 percent were engaged in care, and only 32 percent were able to consistently take their medication and reduce the amount of HIV in their bodies to undetectable levels. Additionally, some communities of women - including those who are of color and/or identify as transgender - are especially susceptible to contracting HIV.
While these stats may surprise some, there are several prevention challenges. For example, women may not always be in a position to negotiate safer sex practices. Cisgender women are also more physiologically susceptible to contracting STIs than their cisgender male counterparts, which means an increased risk of contracting HIV; and transgender women are often subject to stigma and discrimination, which may prevent them from accessing HIV-related services -- not to mention staggering rates of unemployment and homelessness, sometimes leading to survival sex work.
"It is crucial that trans women are included in conversations about HIV's impact on women and girls because we are in a state of emergency,” Blossom Brown, a transgender health advocate from Mississippi, told HRC. “Often, trans women are often overlooked and underserved because of stigma. We are often grouped with gay and bisexual men, and that is not acceptable. Women are women no matter what. Whether trans or cis, we are in this together."
To learn more and to take action, get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Seek out treatment as soon as possible in order to stay healthy. Take steps to protect yourself and your loves ones from the spread of HIV and seek out information from the CDC, Positive Women’s Network, Center of Excellence for Transgender Health and other organizations working on this issue.
HRC is committed to working with our allies, partners, members, and supporters to end the HIV epidemic and the stigma surrounding HIV. Click here to learn more, and join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #BeInTheKnow and #NWGHAAD.