ORLANDO, Fla. — A new CDC study shows while HIV rates have declined overall in recent years, infections among transgender women are much higher than in the general population. 

What You Need To Know

The study shows four out of 10 transgender women are HIV positive. The study also found nearly two-thirds of African-American transgender women were HIV positive and more than one-third of Hispanic/Latina women were HIV positive. 

CDC data shows in the U.S., among all groups of people, less than one percent of the population is HIV positive.

Keyna Harris is the Director of Health Services for The LGBT+ Center in Orlando. “I believe that has a lot to do with stigma and access to resources,” said Harris.

The study polled transgender women in seven large U.S. cities, but did not include Orlando.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Orlando tends to mimic rates of other larger metropolitan areas,” said Harris.

Harris believes part of the problem is the tendency for transgender women to seek sex work because they get turned away from other jobs. 

“Sometimes that is just a job they can find due to all the other stigma surrounding their identity, so sex work does come with a large risk of HIV transmission,” said Harris.

Shea Cutliff says as a transgender woman, she’s faced plenty of hate and disrespect.

“We have to think about, we give more respect to inanimate objects than trans people sometimes,” said Cutliff.

She says that disrespect has prevented some transgender women from seeking medical treatment.  She brought up an example of how another transgender woman was discouraged from seeking healthcare.

“Trained professionals, nurses, doctors and fellow patients all treated this person in such way to where they didn’t feel comfortable getting their own care,” said Cutliff.

Shying away from treatment and testing is one of the reasons Cutliff says she’s not surprised by the newly-released CDC findings.

Cutliff works for Miracle of Love in Lake County to increase testing and services for people with HIV. When not at her day job, she spends much of the rest of her time encouraging other transgender women of color to get tested and to consider taking forms of HIV prevention, like the drug Prep. 

She has her own organization, Rise, and also works with Divas and Dialogue, and partners with the Florida Department of Health.

Beyond her efforts, she believes everyone can play a part in helping to fight the problem by showing more respect to transgender women.

“We should just be able to exist in spaces where we’re just as normal as a pen, as you, as this light,” said Cutliff. “No one comes in here and says why is that light too bright – but if I shine too bright people want to immediately put out my fire.”

She believes employers welcoming more trans women into the workforce will give them more options to make a living – and ultimately drive down cases of HIV.