Threats to the rights and freedoms of trans people in the UK undermines progress on equality, in HIV and beyond
By Kat Smithson
At last week’s Conservative Party Conference there were several negative references to trans people and their rights in the UK from those in leading positions in Government. We are deeply concerned about the impact of this rhetoric on the lives of trans people in the UK and stand with our trans friends and colleagues in the HIV community and beyond.
The Government has committed to ending new HIV transmissions by 2030. This commitment was made for all people and action on it must leave no one behind. To achieve it we must break down the complex stigma which is inextricably linked to other forms of prejudice and stops people from engaging with HIV and sexual health services. This affect can be seen in the disproportionate impact of HIV on the trans community. Trans-led and trans-inclusive services have been critical to addressing this and achieving progress in HIV. They help ensure access to life-saving prevention and treatment for trans people who may otherwise feel excluded, and enrich wider conversations about how we acknowledge the unique challenges of those sidelined from the mainstream.
Progress on HIV, and indeed to tackle other health and social inequalities, will only be achieved with inclusive healthcare that breaks down barriers to access. But the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s proposal to amend the NHS Constitution to allow the exclusion of trans people from single-sex inpatient wards will erect new barriers – both directly in the form of legal exclusion, and indirectly through the hostile and unwelcoming message it sends to those who are trans or gender non-conforming. Far from benefiting others, deliberate marginalisation of one group is to the detriment of all of us as it leads to deepening inequalities and sets a potentially dangerous precedent that rights are conditional not universal.
The legal framework that underpins our rights is fundamental. At National AIDS Trust we use equality laws every day to fight for dignity and respect for those with protected characteristics, including HIV, and see firsthand the enormous importance of these legal protections. We will resist any attempts to water down or dismantle equalities legislation and rights for any groups. Such a move would be hugely detrimental to endeavours to end HIV stigma and discrimination.
Poor experiences alongside a lack of trust and confidence in health services among trans people have exacerbated the inequalities they face in HIV in the UK and globally. This is only getting worse as harmful tropes are increasingly peddled in political discussion, legitimising the dehumanisation of trans and non-binary people and disenfranchising them from services and public life. We will work to protect the rights of all people living with and communities affected by HIV and respond robustly to any consultation on the matter of trans inclusion in health care.