Dignity Amidst COVID-19: Trans Youth Leading the Response - Garfield's Story
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that is claiming lives, destroying livelihoods and disrupting economies across the world. With the support of UNAIDS, the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) and Youth LEAD have worked together to increase the visibility and voices of trans and gender diverse youth leaders throughout Asia and the Pacific.
Let's help protect and care for our transgender sisters in Pattaya
I am Rawitcha Sukdipreechakul, but most people call me Garfield. I am a 25-year-old transgender woman and, for the last three years, I have been working at Sisters Foundation in Pattaya, Thailand. I would consider myself a funny and easy-going person who likes spending time with friends. I live my life aiming to bring out the bright side of difficult situations. I grew up in a small town in northern Thailand and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Health Science from Mae Fah Luang University in Thailand and then moved to Pattaya for work.
When I first moved to Pattaya, I wasn't very confident. I was worried about my ability to contribute to my work and the transgender community. At that time, I only considered myself a health worker. But since I started to work for Sisters Foundation, I developed my passion for protecting the trans community. Sisters Foundation is a non-profit organisation that provides health, education and support services to transgender people for the past 13 years. Our main work focuses on trying to increase HIV testing among transgender people and creating awareness on human rights and health services. Working for the Sisters Foundation has been a very empowering experience; the organisation has welcomed and supported me during my transition. Sisters Foundation has encouraged me and others not to be afraid of who we are by providing us with powerful information and skills to protect our rights and have a voice in society. To me, having the opportunity of being a health worker in this organisation has inspired me to find ways to protect the health of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as create awareness on the importance of regular testing.
As a health provider, I work to ensure our clients feel accepted and comfortable, but also to provide them with relevant information about health and well-being. My priority as a young trans activist is to make sure trans people have access to non-discriminatory health services such as HIV and STI testing, condoms, psychological and informative support. Some of our clients are still afraid of taking an HIV or STI test, so my work as a health worker is to provide them with a safe space and the necessary information for them to understand what HIV and STIs are, and ways to protect themselves. We also let them know that they have support from the community whilst ensuring they have access to reliable information and services.
In my experience, I have realised that most of our clients are not aware of what HIV is and the importance of getting tested. As a health worker, I look for innovative ways to encourage testing. I believe that creativity plays a key role in this, such as finding ways to incentivise people to get tested so that we can provide them with the necessary support. As a trans woman, I understand the importance that beauty and femininity play in our community; the idea of authentically living as a woman is often related to feelings of acceptance and belonging. This is why we decided to develop a creative campaign; providing them with information related to HIV and STIs through the distribution of beauty products such as lipsticks, mascaras, face creams and hormones. This strategy has increased the interest of trans people, particularly with trans women, to get tested and access some of our services.
Young transgender activists leading the COVID-19 pandemic
During the last few months and due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Pattaya has been heavily impacted by the decline of tourism and economic activity. The Thai government has implemented the ban on alcohol, closure of bars and nightlife activities. These lockdown measures have significantly affected not only businesses but areas of income for the trans community. Since Pattaya is heavily reliant on tourism, and most transgender women work in the entertainment or sex industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating consequences on trans people’s lives. As a consequence, the majority of trans people in Pattaya had no other option but to go back to their families or stay in Pattaya through the help and support from their friends and families.
As a response, Sisters Foundation has provided free psychological support through our hotline to support trans people that have to go back to their families, suffering from discrimination or being forced to give up on their gender identity. In collaboration with the Global Fund, the Thai government and the Banglamung Hospital, we have been able to provide free COVID-19 testing for the LGBT community. Additionally, together with the Ministry of Social Development, we have reached the trans community in Chonburi through home visits providing health check-ups: HIV, syphilis, free consultations on STIs, free condoms and lubricants, food and economic support for travel expenses and housing. With the COVID-19 Funding provided by APTN, UNDP, Banpu and AHF Thailand, we have also been able to support trans people that are going through difficult economic situations.
We have also been very active on our online platforms and social media, trying to reach trans people and letting them know about our existing services and support. For the future, we are thinking about contributing to their transition and to provide them with some hormonal treatment, is possible.
For all trans women that are in Thailand, don´t forget that you have a community of sisters to support and protect you.
Edited by: Gabriela Romero (Consultant for Youth LEAD) Christopher Khor (Communications Coordinator, APTN) and Eddy Rudram (Communications Officer, Youth LEAD)