“Nothing for Us Without Us”: Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) Insists on Trans-Led Initiatives to Serve Trans Populations in the Asia Pacific Region

Research by Winter (2012) has speculated that 0.3 percent of the adult population in Asia and the Pacific may be trans. Using 2010 UN population data, he calculated that there may be between 9.0 and 9.5 million trans people in this region. Available data consistently show that trans women are disproportionately affected by HIV. They are more likely to be HIV positive than the general adult population. A 2013 meta-analysis of studies published globally between 2000 and 2011 shows that the pooled HIV prevalence rate for trans women is 19.1 percent, and they are 49 times more likely to acquire HIV than the general adult population (Baral et al., 2013).

Despite such vulnerability, trans data, resources and responses are subsumed and diluted under a broader MSM response.

There is a need to separate gay and MSM activities from transgender activities in this region. The continuation of this conflation ultimately reveals the gay and MSM communities’ insistence that transgender women are “really men”; we ask this to stop. We have recently reiterated these concepts with APCOM. As a result of outcomes from these communications, the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) is restructuring our relationship with APCOM and asking that our partners inform us if you are approached by APCOM on transgender issues.

APTN was launched in 2009 when 15 transgender activists from 10 Asia and Pacific countries came together to champion the health, legal and social rights of transgender peoples. In 2010 at the ICAAP Conference in Busan, South Korea, following a transgender caucus supported by APCOM, it was acknowledged and agreed that the focal point for all transgender related work and advocacy would be transitioned to APTN to lead. APTN acknowledges this history and the support APCOM has provided APTN to establish and to pursue its mandate in serving transgender peoples and communities in the Asia Pacific region.

APTN is the only leading transgender organisation in the Asia Pacific region. We have the expertise, specialism, data, publications and research to lead transgender-related work in the region. We have global support that APTN is the leading transgender entity in the Asia Pacific region. It is our goal to work, over the coming years, to disengage trans-focused work from gay and MSM organisations, centralising transgender advocacy in trans-led initiatives.

As transgender activists we intend to change the policy discourse and current perceptions of putting transgender people under the MSM umbrella; this conflation is confusing, tokenises trans people, and disrespects the identities of transgender people. We look forward to your continued support in our common goals to enable transgender women and men in the Asia and Pacific region to organise and advocate for the improvement of their health, protection of their legal, social and human rights, and enhancement of their social wellbeing and quality of life.

If you have comments or concerns on this issue, please contact the APTN Regional Steering Committee at RSC@weareAPTN.org