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COVID-19 has prompted transgender groups in Asia and the Pacific to take action

COVID-19 has prompted transgender groups in Asia and the Pacific to take action

The global health emergency triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated existing inequality, raised the risk of social isolation, stigma, and discrimination for transgender and gender-diverse populations, limited access to health care, and caused financial insecurity.

“For many transgender people in Asia and the Pacific, COVID-19 has posed an existential challenge. However, trans-led organizations and organisations have come up with innovative ways to help their communities, provide social isolation support, and support trans and gender-diverse individuals, especially those who are unable to work due to COVID-19. The Asia Pacific Transgender Network's Executive Director, Joe Wong, said, "We recognize the importance of trans leadership and their response to communities greatly affected by the pandemic" (APTN).

Maya, a young HIV-positive transgender woman volunteering at Basera Samajik Sansthan, a transgender-led community-based organization in Uttar Pradesh, was living in rented housing after being rejected by her family when COVID-19 arrived in India. “My friends and I had to leave our homes during the COVID-19 outbreak because we couldn't afford the rent,” she said. Basera Samjik Sansthan supported her with joint housing as well as food and medication for her and her friends. The community-led organization has developed a peer support program to assist homeless transgender youth by offering hand sanitizer, gloves, and free HIV and COVID-19 testing.

Her story is part of a series of stories published in Dignity amidst COVID-19: Trans Youth Leading The Response, a project created by APTN and Youth LEAD with support from the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific to raise awareness of the voices and experiences of transgender and gender-diverse youth leaders and to highlight the efforts of transgender-led organizations across Asia and the Pacific.

“During the COVID-19 epidemic, many transgender people living with HIV were unable to afford transportation to medical centers to receive treatment,” said Della, an HIV-positive young woman from Indonesia who works for the Srikandi Sejati Foundation and whose testimony is also included in the Dignity amidst COVID-19 series. To ensure that transgender people could access HIV services, the Srikandi Sejati Foundation developed a community support program that covered transportation costs to medical centers. It also organized local workshops to educate and empower transgender people in five Jakarta districts about COVID-19, HIV, mental wellbeing, and antiretroviral therapy adherence.

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Many entertainment shows and venues in Thailand have had to close due to steps taken to combat the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting downturn in tourism, putting many transgender people out of jobs. Because of the lack of jobs, many trans women have returned to rural areas to be with their families,” said Garfield, a young transgender woman who works for the Sisters Foundation, a transgender-led organization in Pattaya that offers HIV services to transgender people, including general health check-ups, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, hormone therapy, and harm reduction. Garfield and other volunteers have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 relief efforts since the beginning of the pandemic, providing food and hygiene items to transgender people, as stated in the series of stories.

The COVID-19 Community Support Fund, founded by APTN to support transgender people and community-based organizations to ease the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic in the area, has benefited Basera Samajik Sansthan, the Srikandi Sejati Foundation, and the Sisters Foundation.The Asia-Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) granted grants to 22 transgender-led and transgender-inclusive community groups and organizations in 14 countries, helping them to support over 2300 people in Asia and the Pacific. Access to vital materials, food, and personal protective equipment, as well as social and mental health relief, financial aid, and funding support to maintain organizations, is all funded by the grant.

The Trans Resilience Report—Stories of Hope, Pain, and Survival from the Trans Movement During the COVID-19 Pandemic, produced with financial support from the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific, and APTN's multi-week social media campaign summarize the community-led efforts and outcomes of the response to COVID-19.

“On International Transgender Day of Visibility, UNAIDS acknowledges transgender communities' vital contributions to the HIV and COVID-19 response. “Our region continues to be motivated by the leadership and resilience of transgender and gender-diverse communities,” said Eamonn Murphy, Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific. UNAIDS will continue to collaborate with APTN and transgender-led organizations in order to create a region where transgender and gender-diverse individuals will flourish on an equal footing.

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