In his State of the Union address, President Trump pledged to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. In that same speech, he also pledged brutal new measures to punish and vilify people who migrate simply seeking safety for themselves and their families.
The death of Roxsana Hernandez shows, quite simply, that he cannot do both.
Hernandez was an HIV-positive transgender woman from Honduras who presented herself at the border last May for asylum. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers took her into custody, and in under a month, she was dead. A private autopsy revealed evidence that she may have been beaten while handcuffed in detention, and that her death, resulting from dehydration and complications related to HIV, was entirely preventable.
The Trump administration’s actions violently exacerbated the conditions that led to Hernandez’s death. His policies promote violence, sexual assault and denial of health care for trans women of color, particularly immigrants already in dangerous situations that they are migrating to escape. Addressing HIV requires an understanding of and commitment to addressing the conditions trans women of color face — not a denial of our existence and humanity.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study estimated that one in four Latina trans women are HIV-positive, and that a shocking 44 percent of Black trans women live with HIV. Trans women of color are 49 times more likely to contract HIV in our lifetimes than the general population, and violence and migration play large roles in many of our stories. Yet our voices, leadership and needs are rarely centered in government strategies to address the crisis.
As a transgender woman of color and immigrant living with HIV, I have experienced the first two years of Trump’s presidency as nothing short of a concerted effort by the government to kill my community and to erase our existence.
When I first received my diagnosis, I was told I wouldn’t live past the age of 30. Now 53, I have devoted my life to eradicating the epidemic. I started Positively Trans (T+), the first program led by and for transgender women of color living with HIV, to ensure we can share our own stories, control our own fates, and develop our own strategies to survive, thrive and promote our resilience. For six years, I informed federal policy as a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS — a body that is not currently active because Trump disbanded the previous council less than a year into his term.
Everything my community and I have worked so hard to build, Trump has worked systematically to destroy.
Many trans people have only been able to access consistent, reliable, life-saving health care in the last few years because of the Affordable Care Act, which Trump is gleefully working to dismantle.
His administration claims it will focus on the “hardest hit communities” — yet a leaked memo from the federal Department of Health and Human Services last year showed that far from raising up trans folks, his administration is trying to delegitimize our very existence.
He has repeatedly threatened to cut critical programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and has tried to destroy Planned Parenthood, which many trans people rely on for care. Last summer, we learned his administration planned to fund its imprisonment of migrant children with money dedicated to HIV/AIDS patients — perhaps the starkest demonstration of where his true priorities lie.
If Trump truly wanted to end the HIV epidemic, he would first need to see me, Hernandez and all trans-women of color, regardless of national origin, as people. He has shown again and again — including most recently in the State of the Union address — that he is incapable of that.
Despite Trump’s attacks, trans women of color living with HIV have the power to survive, thrive, organize and fight back against HIV. The first step is to end Trump’s presidency.