August 1 - 5, 2011, Jae Sevelius, PhD, visited PHS to meet with one of her project advisors, Walter Bockting, PhD, and to learn about our transgender research and transgender health clinic.
Bockting is working with Sevelius on her NIH/NIMH-funded K-Award project to assess HIV risk behaviors and protective factors among transgender women of color to develop a culturally specific HIV prevention intervention for this high-risk, underserved population.
The current focus of her K research is examining how the need for gender affirmation (a psychosocial dimension that refers to transgender women's desire for validation and support of their gender identity and expression) interacts with access to gender affirmation (their access to this type of validation and support) to promote or protect against risky health behaviors. Sevelius is in year 3 of a 5-year grant.
Sevelius presented her research project to PHS faculty and staff. She said, "I am passionate about promoting health and wellness within transgender communities. That certainly includes addressing health disparities, such as the egregious rates of HIV among transgender women of color, but also includes bringing resources to trans communities to support overall sexual health, mental health, holistic well-being, and spirituality."
She added, "One of the most rewarding aspects of my work so far has been witnessing the direct impact of the sexual health promotion intervention that I am developing for transgender women of color." Sevelius and two research assistants, Danielle Castro and Angel Ventura, conducted a pilot study of the intervention this year. Sevelius said that she was, "astounded by the intensity of the positive response we got from participants. It is a peer-led intervention so I was just an observer, but there were many moments that I was brought to tears by what I witnessed during the course of these small-group sessions. The participants shared so much of themselves, supported one another through difficult disclosures, and struggled together to find connection and love through the traumas they have faced and continue to face in an ongoing way, even in a place that is as reputedly liberal as San Francisco. The participants were so grateful for the opportunity to come together in that way and learn from each other and the wonderful facilitators."
Sevelius is an advocate for systematic change for the wellness of the transgender community. She is hopeful that an increased visibility for the community will lead to an increased commitment to address the severe inequities and systemic transphobia that are pervasive. Sevelius said, "Unfortunately, I think we still have a long way to go here in the US in that we still do not collect trans-inclusive data that provides us with the essential big picture perspective that would allow us to really frame the issues accurately. Health care providers are not adequately educated about the needs of trans people, and violence and discrimination are absolutely rampant. We need to start by acknowledging the existence of trans people on a national level by capturing their unique circumstances and needs in a systematic way."
Sevelius is an Assistant Professor with the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) in the Department of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, and Co-Principal Investigator of the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, which promotes increased access to culturally competent health care for transgender people through research, training, and advocacy. With funding from the California HIV/AIDS Research Program, building on work of the Transitions Project and in collaboration with API Wellness' TRANS:THRIVE program, Sevelius is also working to adapt and evaluate the evidence-based HIV prevention intervention SISTA (Sisters Informing Sisters about Topics on AIDS) for transgender women of color. Another CHRP-funded project of Sevelius' is a qualitative investigation of the barriers to HIV treatment engagement and adherence among transgender women living with HIV.