HIV+ Transgender New Yorker Speaks Out on the Need for the Equality Act

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author of this piece has asked to remain anonymous. For purposes of publication, she has asked to be identified as “Miss No.”

I’m a trans femme Latina who has been living with HIV for over 20 years. The misunderstanding and lack of knowledge by others has meant I’ve had to navigate discrimination, mistreatment, and assault at every turn. I’ve been denied housing, jobs, and healthcare, and I’ve watched my friends go through the same hardships.

Despite everything, I know that it’s possible to create a world that values transgender lives. I know this because I’ve recently been lucky enough to find spaces where my life and my story is respected. Spaces where being treated with dignity and care is the norm, not the exception.

A few years ago, I came across an organization — Translatinx Network NYC — that changed my life. This community has made me the woman I am today. They’ve connected me to resources and competent care, and I’m thriving. I now work regularly with a counselor who understands and supports me. For the first time in my life, I have doctors who are professional and caring. I’m involved with several community organizations and support groups that are helping me heal from the trauma I’ve experienced in my life.

We’ve made many advances in LGBTQ rights in the last few decades, but we still have so much work to do. Momentum for LGBTQ equality is growing, and it’s time for our leaders to get on board. I’m calling on Congress to pass federal nondiscrimination protections — so that every LGBTQ person can go about their daily lives without fear of harassment or discrimination.

Even in a place like New York City, where I’ve lived for 20 years, housing discrimination is rampant. Like many LGBTQ folks of my generation, I became homeless after I came out because my family kicked me out of the house. I found that it was incredibly common to be turned away from shelters when staff learn that you’re transgender or that you have HIV. I even recently had an experience when a landlord found out about my health status and immediately denied me the apartment.

A federal nondiscrimination law would ensure that LGBTQ folks seeking shelter and housing have consistent uniform protections that allow us to seek legal recourse if needed. Right now, we have to navigate a patchwork of laws depending on our zip code in our home state or if we travel. A federal law would ensure landlords can’t hide behind the confusion of multiple laws and regulations, and would send a clear message to all LGBTQ Americans about what our rights are.

For those struggling with discrimination in housing and healthcare settings, this law could be life saving. According to a new CDC report, 42 percent of transgender women experienced homelessness. Workplace discrimination or job losses, and/or discrimination in housing have excaberated their already elevated rates of homelessness. Another survey of people living in transitional housing in New York City found that almost one-quarter reported experiencing discrimination — ranging from hostility, lack of respect, and lack of attentiveness, to outright refusals of service — in the health care system because they had HIV.

That was my story too. I’ve had far too many experiences with doctors who mocked me, made inappropriate comments, or even refused to give me any medical care at all. When I first tested positive for HIV, the clinic I went to told me that they would simply “monitor” me and that I didn’t need treatment. Eventually, my HIV progressed to AIDS and I was hospitalized for several months. I’m now on treatment and my viral load is low, which is a blessing. But for years I lived with debilitating illness and zero access to competent care.

It doesn’t have to be this way. No one should be discriminated against because of who they are, who they love, or their health status. I worked for many years as a care worker and a customer service worker — I met a lot of people, and I know that deep down we all just want the same thing. Most people are good. Most people want to do the right thing. I believe that if everyone treated each other with respect and dignity, no matter their identity, so many of our societal problems would be solved.

Our leaders in Congress can lead by example. They should act now to pass federal legislation to protect all LGBTQ Americans, in all areas of life — including employment, housing, and public spaces.

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