Collaborating with Health Departments to Address the Needs of Native American Transgender Communities

By Lynne Greabell, Director of Member Service and Leadership Development, NASTAD

 Resources for Health Departments Working with Native American Communities

It is important for health departments that have a significant population of Native Americans to address the risk of HIV, STDs and viral hepatitis among Native transgender people. The risk for HIV infection among Native transgender people is evidenced by the fact that higher percentages of Native American GLBTQ youth report high-risk behavior among all youth, that the impacts of co-occurring factors that contribute to HIV risk such as suicides, substance use/abuse and other STDs are higher among Native Transgender people, and that 75% of HIV infections among Native American men were among men who have sex with men (MSM) in 2011.

As part of our ongoing work to support health departments in responding to the needs of Native American communities, we recently hosted a webinar on Native American transgender communities presented by members of the newly formed National Native Transgender Network (NNTN). The presenters participate in NASTAD’s Native American Networking Group, comprised of health department HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis staff, federal partners and Native American service providers, advocates and consumers. Presenters discussed data related to Native American transgender communities, described their programming, and shared successes and challenges in collaborating with health departments to address the needs of Native American, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native Transgender individuals.

Effective Prevention Programs for Transgender Communities

Although there is a need for additional research on transgender communities and effective prevention programming, NNTN highlighted the Los Angeles Health Department as an example of how one health department that is collecting data on Native American transgender communities.

NNTN also discussed successful programs they are implementing, including adaptations of the SISTA, Popular Opinion Leader, and Community Promise interventions in New Mexico and Hawaii. NNTN also provides comprehensive services grounded in Native cultural traditions, practices and references, such as the medicine wheel. Presenters also recognized the New Mexico Health Department for its open-door policy in working with Native Transgender communities.

Strengthening Cultural Competency

Ensuring culturally competent services by and for the Native transgender community is essential, and this is needed not only in urban centers that serve Native Americans, but also in rural and tribal communities. On the webinar, the NNTN emphasized that they are making themselves available to answer questions and provide valuable resources for agencies that want information on the issues and strategies impacting Native transgender populations. They also seek to build upon recent advocacy by Native Two Spirit and gay men by mentoring and developing a larger cadre of Native Transgenders (see also NASTAD’s Two Spirit Issue Brief).

Health departments can and should seek guidance from Native transgender individuals when developing programmatic and policy responses aimed at impacting the HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis epidemics in these communities. The NNTN can provide information and resources, and also help develop local capacity. In addition, NASTAD has published a resource directory of information and Native American service providers. For more information on NASTAD’s work focused on Native Americans and transgender communities, please visit the NASTAD website.

We want to hear from you! How is your health department addressing the needs of Native American and transgender communities? Tell us by leaving a comment below.

  • Wia Wyle

    I’m so very happy to have heard and learned a little about the NNTN. I live in SLC, Utah, and would love to become involved with this organization. I am Navajo, 44, and Transgender m-t-f. It would be great if this organization would extend their advocacy and educational needs to the transgender population in Utah. I would like more information please. Thank you!

    • Michelle Enfield

      Hello Wia, thank you your reply. You may contact Mattee Jim at