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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Georgia State: High Rate of HIV, Poverty, Violence among Transgender Women

The HIV rate among transgender women in Atlanta, GA, is high and many have also experienced poverty and violence, according to a recent study led by a researcher from the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.

[Photo: Dr. Laura Salazar]

According to the study, which surveyed 92 sexually active transgender women in urban Atlanta in 2014 and 2015, more than half reported being HIV-positive. Most were also Black, unemployed, uninsured and had experienced some form of sexual violence, the study found. A large number also reported experiencing homelessness and incarceration.

“This HIV prevalence rate is not surprising given our sample resides in an area where the HIV/AIDS epidemic is largely concentrated among African American/Blacks and has some of the highest poverty levels and number of uninsured individuals,” the researchers stated.  They also noted that the self-reported HIV rate among transgender women in Atlanta “is of great concern” because it highlights “a need for behavioral and HIV surveillance systems.”

The results of the study are published in the International Journal of STD & AIDS in the article “Contextual, experiential, and behavioral risk factors associated with HIV status: a descriptive analysis of transgender women residing in Atlanta, Georgia.” The study’s lead author is Dr. Laura Salazar, professor of health promotion & behavior at Georgia State University.

In the article, researchers said their findings could inform interventions and policies that would increase economic stability among all transgender women. “Unemployment, homelessness, and commercial sex work are occurring at significantly high rates among these transgender women, regardless of HIV status,” they stated.

The researchers also noted that the survey findings suggest being transgender could carry a greater social stigma than being HIV-positive, and they recommended social marketing campaigns to raise public awareness and comfort levels.

There were some bright spots in the survey results. Overall, HIV-positive transgender women in Atlanta were generally happier with their appearance and more comfortable with being transgender than their HIV-negative peers, the survey showed.

“One possible explanation is that the counseling or support services offered as part of HIV/AIDS care acts as a buffer and perhaps provides HIV-infected transgender women affirmation of their gender identity,” the researchers stated. “A second possibility involves the relatively high level of familial support, observed in this sample of transgender women, acting as a protective factor.”

The study’s authors also include Georgia State public health PhD students Jamal Jones and Krishna Kota; Dr. Katherine Masyn, associate professor of epidemiology & biostatistics at Georgia State; Dr. Richard A. Crosby, who holds positions with the University of Kentucky and the Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University; and Dr. Brandon Hill with the University of Chicago.