KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — Concerns about further discrimination might discourage the already stigmatised transgender community from visiting clinics or hospitals for HIV treatment, trans rights activist Rania Zara Medina said.
Rania — who recently sparked controversy when she was appointed to a committee under the Health Ministry that works on getting international funds for HIV/AIDS work in Malaysia — said she has heard complaints about a few medical staff who refuse to touch trans people, simply because of their gender identity, when the latter visit health facilities for general ailments.
“It is not that they are scared; they do want to go, but they are worried about stigma. Already they’re transgender, what more HIV,” Rania, 26, told CodeBlue in an interview.
“So they need a middleman to take them to the hospital or clinic,” said the young trans woman. “It’s not a question of fear; they just don’t want further discrimination”.
Rania said as a member of the country coordinating mechanism (CCM), which applies for funds from international organisation The Global Fund, she plans to focus on educating young trans people like herself on HIV prevention.
“I will tell the younger generation to focus on HIV prevention medicine, the PrEP tablet,” she said, referring to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug that uninfected people can take to prevent HIV infection if they face substantial risk of contracting the virus.
New HIV infections reportedly dropped by almost 30 per cent in the past year in Singapore, with Action for Aids Singapore attributing the decrease to education on safer sex, access to PrEP, and tackling stigma and discrimination.
Rania said for people already living with HIV, she would ensure that they received antiretroviral therapy.
The 26-year-old trans woman has been involved with non-government organisations (NGOs) like SEED Home and Justice For Sisters since age 19, doing community work like giving out free condoms because “we cannot stop sex from happening, but we can prevent HIV infections”.
She said as a CCM member, she would act as a bridge between the transgender community in Malaysia and health organisations. Rania is currently with trans rights group Justice For Sisters.
“When we meet with important people, we can have a seat at the table,” said Rania.
“I’m lucky because I didn’t face stigma, but my close friends face stigma. If society sees them, they’ll see them as sources of HIV/ AIDS. It’s totally wrong.”
She said transgender people preferred to deal within their own community because of stigma from others.
“You must know one thing — it’s not HIV which kills you. We can control that. Actually, it’s discrimination and stigma that kill you.”Rania Zara Medina
Rania, who said she was known in the community because she always joined beauty pageants, talked about how transgender people asked her various questions about health, not just on HIV, but also about other sexually transmitted infections and what hormones were suitable for them.
New HIV Infections Among Transgenders Are Actually Low
Rania revealed that new HIV infections among trans people in Malaysia were “very low” based on anecdotal evidence, though she said she was still waiting to get statistics on it.
She said she has yet to meet or hear of a transgender getting infected with HIV for the past two years, noting that she would have received such news if there were any since she was involved with many NGOs.
“I very very rarely meet a transgender with HIV,” said Rania.
Despite apparently high HIV awareness in the transgender community, Rania said there was still a need to make everyone know about the virus, which she can do so on social media, such as on Instagram Stories and Facebook.
“I use my platform as a model to spread awareness,” said Malaysia’s first transgender winner of the IKON beauty pageant.
She added that she rarely saw trans people doing sex work, pointing out that the majority of transgenders now owned successful businesses.
“I want to tell society and make them understand that we are not the old transgender community anymore. Nowadays, transgenders are educated. They have great careers. They cannot be stigmatised against any longer.”
Rania — who herself runs a business on the side, besides being a model and activist — said other trans people were also models, makeup artists, and professionals in the medical and legal fields.
“Now, we are very very empowered,” said Rania. “If you give us opportunities, we can be different than you, maybe better.”