Gender-based stigma contributes to increased HIV prevalence, but little is known about psychosocial mechanisms linking stigma and HIV risk among young transgender women (YTW).
This study uses data from Project LifeSkills, a randomized controlled efficacy trial of an empowerment-based HIV prevention intervention for YTW (N = 233). YTW were recruited in Boston, MA, and Chicago, IL, between 2012 and 2015 and completed study assessment visits at baseline and months 4 and 12.
Using autoregressive structural equation modeling, we examined whether poor social support and psychological distress at 4 months mediate the prospective relationship between gender-based stigma at baseline and condomless anal and vaginal sex (CAVS) acts at 4 and 12 months; all models were adjusted for treatment arm, HIV serostatus, study site, and sociodemographics.
Gender-based stigma at baseline was directly associated with increased CAVS at 4 months [adjusted incidence rate ratio (aIRR) = 1.18, 95% confidence interval (CI): (1.05 to 1.33)] and 12 months [aIRR = 1.17, 95% CI: (1.02 to 1.34)]. Gender-based stigma was also associated with higher psychological distress at 4 months [b = 0.70, 95% CI: (0.13 to 1.27)], which in turn was marginally associated with increased CAVS at 12 months [aIRR = 1.03, 95% CI: (1.00 to 1.06)]. Contrary to expectations, poor social support at 4 months was associated with decreased CAVS at 12 months [aIRR = 0.40, 95% CI: (0.28 to 0.59)].
Future HIV prevention interventions with YTW should consider addressing experiences of gender-based stigma and the psychological distress that may ensue from gender-based stigma. More research is needed to understand the influence of poor social support on sexual behaviors in this population.