'We are not men, we have unique needs'

In a bid to differentiate themselves from gay men, transgender women from 10 Asia Pacific countries, including Singapore, have come together and formed the world's first TG network.

The Asia Pacific Transgender Network aims to combat discrimination and marginalisation of TG women by reaching out and educating the public.

On Wednesday , the first of its sub-group meetings kicked off in Bangkok to discuss, among other issues, how to better utilise resources in reducing HIV/Aids among TG women in the Asia Pacific region. Said Ms Khartini Slamah of the Pink Triangle Foundation, Malaysia: "For a long time, TG women have been represented among the men who have sex with men (MSM) sub-group. Now there is a recognition that we are a distinct demographic with unique needs."

They want the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/Aids to stop clustering them under the MSM umbrella. Said Ms Khartini: "TG women are not men - we have different issues and needs."

These include access to affordable, quality healthcare services such as lifelong hormonal therapy, sexual reassignment surgery and counselling for better social integration, said Singapore TG activist Leona Lo.

She is the Singapore representative for the network. Using TG sex workers as an example, she said you would not find them at gay cruising hot spots.

"In Singapore, TG sex workers operate together with female sex workers. If you want to reach out to them, you need to consider this," said Ms Lo.

Currently in Singapore, there's also no data on the risk of HIV/Aids infection among TG sex workers, separately from MSM or female sex workers, she said.

Discrimination

Said Mr Dredge Byung'chu Kang, a PhD candidate in the Departments of Anthropology, Epidemiology and Global Health at Emory University in Atlanta, USA: "TG women face discrimination that limit their life opportunities and increase their risk for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and other diseases."

TG women often have limited job opportunities and often resort to sex work, he said.

He is conducting research in Thailand on Thai gay men and TG women.

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