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Despite claims of trans inclusion, trans issues mar start of #AIDS2016

In reports reaching Outrage Magazine here in #AIDS2016, trans people were not allowed to use their preferred names, but were forced to use their “legal names”. Security risks were cited as the reason for this. Also, questions are being raised about the number of scholarships provided to trans activists who can help highlight their issues.

Durban, SOUTH AFRICA – Here at the International AIDS Conference (IAC) 2016, trans people seem to be getting the short end of the stick yet again, even if – for the first in this gathering’s history – a pre-conference event was held for the trans community to highlight that trans-inclusive efforts by the International AIDS Society (IAS; and by extension, the HIV community) is no longer just lip service.

In reports reaching Outrage Magazine here in #AIDS2016, trans people were – yet again – not allowed to use their preferred names, but were forced to use their “legal names”. Security risks were cited as the reason for this.

According to transpinay Raine Cortes, one of those who were forced to use the names given to them at birth, “the experience was de-humanizing, to say the least, as they (IAS) basically refused to acknowledge my personhood.”

This move – i.e. non-recognition of the preferred/chosen names of trans people – borders on misgendering (and even degendering), and is largely considered to be transphobic, as it dehumanizes them by not respecting their right to self-identify.

For a time, trans women – were counted under “men who have sex with men (MSM)” as a key population affected by HIV. This, therefore, limited trans-specific services being offered to them, largely because trans needs are not always similar to the needs of MSM. It was only recently when trans women were segregated from MSM, with the call for their inclusion to go beyond lip service.

Surprisingly, said Cortes, upon registration to this year’s IAC, they were asked their preferred names, as well as the gender identifiers they use. “So this sudden change in policy should have been avoided,” she said.

Some trans people whose birth names have already been legally changed were allowed to use their now-legal names, though – as Cortes said – “this is a privilege not afforded many trans people, particularly since many countries still do not grant so many of the human rights to us.”

For trans activist Maria Sundin – Member of the Board of RFSL – The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights – what happened was “very transphobic, very stupid.” And while she thinks that this may have something to do with paranoia about terrorism. This issue should not have surfaced again, considering it was already tackled with IAS in the earlier gathering in Melbourne.

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Meanwhile, transwoman Simran Shaikh, senior program officer of India HIV/AIDS Alliance, said to Outrage Magazine that this occurrence “is very sad. On the one hand, we say that the IAC is giving space for trans women; but on the other hand, it’s saying to us that we’re not allowed to use our preferred names. Since not many of us are very lucky to have our preferred names in our legal documents… it’s very hurtful.”

Shaikh said that while IAS “started something, and it’s really appreciated… I don’t think what they’re doing is enough.”

Shaikh was also critical of the number of scholarships given to trans people, with only 27 offered to some 1,000 applicants. “I think trans people should be equally involved – from planning to execution,” Shaikh said. “Together, we need to do something.” And so in future engagements with the trans community, “no more lip service; involve us.”

This is not the first time an international gathering that is supposed to be accepting of people of different orientations failed to respect members of the trans community. Earlier, at the ILGA Asia Conference 2015 in Taipei, Taiwan, the same issue happened, when trans people’s preferred names were not recognized.

Outrage Magazine reached out to the IAS for comments, but no response was received as of press time.


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