GCN had the pleasure of chatting with Rebecca Tallon de Havilland about HIV Ireland’s pilot rapid HIV testing programme which aims to remove barriers for trans and non-binary people seeking sexual health services. The activist shared details about the peer-led testing programme and why it’s such a vital initiative.
Rebecca is a trans woman living with HIV since the 1980s. While she initially remained private about her status, Rebecca has since become a trailblazer and known activist across Ireland and the UK.
She shared: “I was working at the Pride shop, then I was a Grand Marshal for St. Patrick’s Day parade, and then I was cover of GCN magazine. Somewhere along the line, I got offered my own television show, which I’m just finishing filming for Virgin Media.”
Rebecca works with TransPlus in London, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, and is the Lead Project Coordinator for Trans projects working with HIV Ireland. Rebecca is now working on a peer-led testing service which is the first of its kind for trans and non-binary individuals.
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Currently, many people are living with HIV but don’t know their status because they haven’t been tested. This is particularly true for trans women. Research suggests trans people are 13 times more likely to be HIV Positive, and all kinds of barriers currently make accessing testing services challenging including stigma, violence, and legal barriers.
Rebecca said: “Many trans and non-binary people find it difficult to access appropriate HIV and sexual health services due to experiences of stigma, violence, and legal barriers compounded by a lack of awareness among some health care professionals and gendered service provision that does not meet the needs of our community.”
There is also a lot of misinformation about how medication may impact hormones, and Rebecca shared that: “Even though I’ve been living with HIV for decades now, I would have been ignorant about what these meds were doing” prior to working with sexual health services like the NHS, Terrence Higgins Trust and HIV Ireland.
This first-of-its-kind peer-led service for trans and non-binary people aims at promoting HIV awareness and creating barrier-free, accessible sexual health services, offering rapid HIV testing in a non-judgemental environment. Rebecca said: “The message we want to share is to get tested. It’s the best thing you can do.”
The programme will allow people who get tested to immediately know their results and offers access to education and support immediately after testing. Should the test result be positive, people will be able to connect with someone living with HIV and receive confidential information and advice.
In 2022, there were 1.3 million new HIV infections, with young women and adolescent girls as well as men who have sex with men and other vulnerable groups most impacted.
Read UNAIDS’ latest report with ways to fix that.
— UNAIDS (@UNAIDS) August 14, 2023
Rebecca shared that there is still a stereotype that suggests it disproportionately impacts gay men, but everyone should get tested: “Some people are so terrified to get tested, and then they’re negative. They’ve often said to me, ‘Why didn’t I do this before?'”, she shared.
HIV Ireland is now recruiting volunteers for this testing programme. Volunteer “peer-testers” will be trained to conduct rapid HIV tests and provide support for those getting tested. The team is predominantly looking for trans and non-binary volunteers so those getting tested will feel seen and understood.
The call for volunteers is now open, with more details available on HIV Ireland’s website. Interested volunteers will complete one full day of training, and then two half days over a weekend. All volunteers will receive training, supervision, and support from HIV Ireland.
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