Virginia Health Initiative Opening Doors for Transgender Residents

Article excerpt

Health advocates in Virginia are paving new and progressive inroads to bring health care services to transgender residents, the great majority of whom face discrimination, disadvantage and threats of violence on a regular basis.

With the support of state health agencies, Virginia health researchers conducted a statewide assessment of transgender health needs--a first for any state--and are translating the data into programs aimed at creating a welcoming health care system for a population often overlooked and other times, completely dismissed. The assessment, the "Health, Health-Related Needs and Lifecourse Experiences of Transgender Virginians," which was released in January, is the culmination of three years of research by the Virginia Transgender Health Initiative Study, yielding data ranging from tobacco use rates to incidence of sexual assault to trends on HIV risk perception. Conducted for the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia HIV Community Planning Committee, the assessment is part of Virginia's strategy to pinpoint effective HIV prevention tactics--as transgender people are at particularly high risk for HIV infection--but its success is likely to reach far beyond the field of HIV.

"This study helps to shoot down mythologies about transgender people" said Judy Bradford, PhD, director of Virginia Commonwealth University's Community Health Research Initiative, which conducted the survey. "People are just living their lives, but many are living their lives in situations of being closeted and hidden ... which makes it very difficult for people to live healthy and productive lives."

Many previous transgender health studies have focused on metropolitan areas, but the Virginia assessment included transgender people from rural, urban and suburban areas as well as people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, constituting a sample size of 350 people, Bradford said. The study was designed with the help of Virginia's Statewide Transgender Task Force, which formed at the study's start, but lives on today to ensure that the final data continue to improve health conditions for transgender residents.

"I'm an advocate of community-based participatory research, that the population that's going to be studied are full partners in every step in the research," Bradford told The Nation's Health.

After more than three years of planning and study, a picture of transgender health and life has emerged that is often plagued with prejudice and stigma, societal factors that affect people's health and their willingness to engage in risky behaviors. According to the assessment, a quarter of study participants reported being homeless at some point in their lives and 13 percent reported being fired from a job due to their transgender status. …