Between July 18 and 23, 2010, the International Aids Conference was held in Vienna, Austria, the premier gathering for those working in the field of HIV, as well as policy makers, persons living with HIV and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic. SPW team asked Marcela Romero, trans argentinean activist reknown as the Woman of the Year in Argentina in 2009, which were her impressions about the Conference from trans people perspective.
SPW – What’s your assessment of the presence of trans people in the International AIDS Conference 2010 in Vienna? If you compare it with previous conferences such as Toronto and Mexico, how do you evaluate it? And what is your assessment on how the issues related to trans people were treated during the Conference?
Marcela Romero – There were few opportunities for debate for the trans community. This Congress had a very academic profile, and if this were not enough, we had a major barrier in relation to language because we did not have Spanish translation.
Issues related to transgender people in the field of AIDS are usually treated under the rubric of “men who have sex with men”, which is quite problematic. How was this issue addressed in Vienna? Are there possibilities for any change in that logic?
Marcela Romero – Unfortunately, in this Congress, we realized many times that we are included under the heading of MSM (Men Who Have Sex with Men). This is problematic because it does not give visibility to our people and hides the necessary and specific strategies to address the problem of HIV / AIDS. To change this logic it is necessary to train and empower transgender people to fight this kind of transphobia. A qualified activist will hardly agree to be included as MSM. Those of us from the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People emphasize this.
What would you recommend for the work of HIV / AIDS and health promotion of trans people within governments in general?
Marcela Romero – It is essential to articulate with the National HIV/AIDS Programmes a better response to HIV / AIDS with respect to gender identity aiming at transgender people, establish joint strategies but listening to our voice, our demands, our needs. We can not talk about prevention if it is not situated within our own language and codes. Also, it is critical that all governments undertake specific epidemiological surveillance for the trans community because they are the ones who are responsible for the public health.
And for the governments of Latin America?
Marcela Romero – Latin America is undergoing profound changes, this is an era of greater participation and involvement of civil society. However, trans people are still living, in many cases, as in the days of the worst dictatorships. There are hate crimes every day in many countries such as Honduras and Guatemala, however, the government never investigates them. In other countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil you can see progress, but trans people still remain below the poverty line which causes a lack of employment opportunities, lack of access to education, health and justice. If human rights are violated, we cannot talk about access to prevention, care and universal treatment.
The central theme in Vienna was human rights along with the criminalization of the relations between people of the same sex, prostitution, drugs, HIV transmission, and abortion, which were addressed in several panels and at least in one plenary session as an obstacle to the realization full human rights. Is this an important issue on the advocacy agenda for transgender people in Latin America?
Marcela Romero – One of our main objectives is advocating with governments to eliminate all laws, edicts, and reports that criminalize sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a serious problem because we are arbitrarily detained (without any reason), and taken to jail making it imposible for us to continue with treatment for HIV, if we are taking medication. This is an attack on our human rights. In Argentina we have already achieved the elimination of these codes in several provinces to eliminate that are unconstitutional and that came from the military dictatorship period.