Women's College Research Institute

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Systemic assumptions may fuel new HIV infections

Feb. 2012

Dr. Carmen Logie

A recent Women’s College study has unearthed evidence of woefully inadequate services filled with discrimination for women living with HIV.

The qualitative study published in PLoS Medicine1 examined how marginalized HIV-positive women experience discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, race and HIV status. It was led by Drs. Mona Loutfy, Women’s College Hospital scientist and physician and associate professor in the University of Toronto’s department of medicine, and Carmen Logie, post-graduate student at Women’s College Research Institute.

“For several female minority groups, we found systemic shortcomings that have been fueled by untrue assumptions, stigma and discrimination,” says Logie.

HIV infection rates in women increased by 11 per cent between 2007 and 2008, disproportionately affecting racial minorities, sex workers and LGBTQ [lesbian/gay/ bisexual/transgender/queer] communities. The scientists recorded numerous accounts of patients who, based on their gender, race, HIV status or history of sex-work, were treated differently, harassed or excluded from programs by nurses, fertility workers, physicians and psychiatrists.

“Probably the most surprising data came from the women in the LGBTQ community,” says Logie, adding that “data about sexual preference is only collected from men with HIV, leading to the assumption that HIV is uncommon in nonheterosexual women.”

“HIV experts have no firm grasp of how many women with HIV are non-heterosexual,” says Logie. “They’re invisible and so we don’t know how to serve them, and there are absolutely no programs tailored to their needs. And the fact that we don’t even collect these data just perpetuates our misperceptions.”

This result is that LGBTQ women are not taught how to protect their partners, and feel excluded and stigmatized by programs targeted to heterosexual women.

“These women end up in a room of strangers, many from backgrounds that are not accepting of non-heterosexual lifestyles. So they hide their sexuality.”

In addition, although there is little information about the sexuality of many of women with HIV, transgender communities are known to have high infection rates. Yet Logie explains that despite this, “there are no services targeting them, they’re ignored.”

“Right now, marginalized women living with HIV have nowhere to turn for help. We’re working to understand their needs so that our health-care systems can become more proactive and responsive to them, and hopefully lower infection rates.”

> read article

1 Logie CH, James L, Tharao W, Loutfy MR (2011). HIV, Gender, Race, Sexual Orientation, and Sex Work: A Qualitative Study of Intersectional Stigma Experienced by HIVPositive Women in Ontario, Canada. PLOS Medicine 8(11): e1001124.


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