Mobilize, Educate and Engage Targets Trans POC on HIV Prevention
The Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative and House of Blahnik have come together to spearhead a new movement called Project Mobilize, Educate, & Engage. This new task force has been brought together under a newly awarded grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to pioneer the advocacy for awareness and treatment of HIV in the transgender community.
"From the beginning of GALAEI's existence, we've worked with the trans community," Executive Director Elicia Gonzales told EDGE. This particular combination of organizations will have the double-pronged effect of not only reaching out to the trans community of Philadelphia, but appealing to trans people of color.
Project MEE will provide support and direct advocacy in Philadelphia, New York City, Atlanta, and Chicago, focusing on those communities in which HIV has become rampant and education regarding the prevention and protection against contracting HIV is limited.
The organization is currently working on the first step of their initiative, Mobilize, but one exceptional element to their plan is the level in which they are taking an interest in the biomedical research related to treating HIV. Whereas many HIV-awareness groups stop at the increasingly important task of encouraging testing or providing contraception, Project MEE is painfully aware of the already high levels of HIV in their community and want to help create treatments as well as prevention.
This dedication to treatment is seen in one of the cardinal goals related to Project MEE's relationship to NIAID and their HIV prevention networks. The involvement of NIAID beyond funding will help to not only signal the commitment to treating the trans community, but also to give a level of legitimacy to the medical efforts of the organization.
One of the challenges Project MEE will have to this end is a lack of working information. The 'T' in LGBT is notoriously invisible, and while much of this invisibility is due to the gay community ignoring the issues most important to the trans community, that is not where it ends. For many in the trans community, the goal is to fully transition and no longer identify as trans, but simply as the gender into which they have transitioned.
These issues make it difficult to gather proper statistics in which to make well-informed decisions on how to help the community overcome their battles, especially the rate of HIV infection. Still, the information that has been gathered is disturbing. Almost 30 percent of transwomen in the U.S. self-report as HIV-positive, and the general understanding is that this number is very likely higher when inaccurate reporting is factored in. With these alarming numbers, an organization like Project MEE has never been more important.
The two Philadelphia-based collaborators, GALAEI and House of Blahnik, described the more formal union as a natural marriage. Their organization's missions have found each other to be frequent collaborators on other projects. GALAEI in particular has made sure to include the trans population in their programs and outreach.
A trans person of color statistically is arguably the most marginalized member of our society, and resources are often too scarce and too infrequent.
This is a point that the managing director of House of Blahnik, Lawrence Frazier, wants to hone in on. Frazier will serve as program manager of Project MEE, and he describes the trans community of color as left out of the HIV conversation and painfully uninformed in the ways of HIV-prevention and treatment.
"They are greatly marginalized and underserved. They are often overlooked in HIV-prevention efforts, thus this education would ultimately lead to healthier outcomes and decision-making," said Frazier.
He went on to impress how critical this movement is to the health and education of trans people both long and short term. Treatment for those already living with HIV is the more urgent problem, but preventative measures in the trans community are scarce and necessary.
The task force supported by their first awarded grant will fund a group of 12 community leaders to execute goals of outreach and begin to influence their local communities to take advantage of future efforts of Project MEE. While they are currently only funded through June 2013, the group is still in the early stages of carrying out their plans, and will be exploring further funding options as their vision becomes more clear.
Project MEE will continue to roll out their advocacy efforts in the communities they are active in through 2013, and hope to gather more accurate statistics and methods for treating HIV in the trans community.
For more information about their current activities, visit MEE's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ProjectMee.