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AIDSTAR-One Podcast: Reaching Transgender and MSM Populations through Social Media


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Know your audience. This cardinal rule of both HIV prevention interventions and social media strategies has been a key to the early success of TLBz Sexperts, a growing HIV prevention program based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. TLBz Sexperts is using social media—including Facebook, You Tube, and online chats—to reach transgender people—a population that is at-risk for HIV infection—with important health messages. In this podcast, you will hear from Nada Chaiyajit, a well-known transgender activist from Chiang Mai, who leads the TLBz Sexpert program.

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AIDSTAR-One Podcast: Reaching Transgender and MSM Populations through Social Media

  1. 1. Transcript of Podcast: Reaching Transgender and MSM Populations through Social MediaThis podcast was produced by the AIDS Support and Technical Assistance Resources (AIDSTAR-One) project, USAID Contract #GHH-I-00-07-00059—00, funded January 31, 2008. TOTAL RUNNING TIME: 12:18 CONTACT: info@aidstar-one.com0:00 - NarratorYou are listening to an AIDSTAR-One podcast. Today we will explore how a program in Thailand, TLBzSexperts, is using internet to reach most-at-risk populations, including transgender people, with healthmessages. We will be hearing from Nada Chaiyajit, a well-known transgender activist from Chiang-Mai, wholeads the TLBz Sexpert program.In July 2010 PEPFAR issued Technical Guidance on Combination HIV Prevention. The guidance defines sixcore components, including Targeted Information, Education and Communication. This broad componentincludes a wide range of HIV prevention activities such as community, small-group, and individualbehavioral interventions, peer education, and the development and distribution of targeted media that areused as part of outreach efforts, HIV testing and counseling, behavioral interventions, and social marketingcampaigns.Dr. Christopher Walsh from The Open University and the MPlus Foundation in Thailand were looking for anengaging way to reach at risk groups to change the way the communities talk about sexual behavior andHIV risk. At that time—three years ago—YouTube was already very popular, and transgender people andMSM were excited about using these new tools and other mobile devices, like iPhones and iPods. High-riskgroups were using these tools to share sexual video clips. Here’s how Nada Chaiyajit explains the program’sdecision to employ social media tools.1:24 - NadaNada’s voice: “so we decided to make an animation, because that moment three year ago, You Tube is veryfamous, and almost every transgender and MSM member in our community was excited with thesetechnologies, mobile phones, mobile device, ipod, iphone. So we know that they always share the clips,some kind of sexual clip, something like that. So we think that if we produce the animation that can keep theknowledge about prevention programs, so it could be the two that open up their mind and talk with ourpeer outreach, so we produce the animation first. And then we put it on the website on online resources forthe first period”.
  2. 2. 2:14 - NarratorHowever, the team was also concerned about getting these animations and the relevant information to thehard-to-reach populations: MSM who were not attending outreach sessions but instead were arranginghook-ups from their computers at home and transgender people who only wanted to engage with theirinner, trusted circle, not random outreach workers.2:34 - NadaNada’s voice: But think about the people who just sit in front of the computer and just go online talking.They are almost lacking this information because they are just hook [up] and go, get and go, no time forspeaking. Just get my guys already and go.”2: 50 - NarratorSo, the team wrote a grant to get funding from amFAR to run a program called Sexperts, which was basedon the RFSL Stockholm program, “We are the Sexperts!” The team adapted this program for the Chiang Maicontext (which differs from the Bangkok context as well) and trained people—including Nada—to becomeMPlus sexperts.After just one year of the grant, the sexperts had completed over 1000 chats with different at-risk groups,but through careful evaluation of their program, they discovered that they had only been reaching theMSM population, not the transgender population that does not always identify as MSM. In many cases, HIVprogramming combines health message for transgender people with those for men who have sex with menwithout taking into consideration the particular needs of transgender people. Programming for transgenderpeople need to be adopted to meet their specific needs, which are different from those of MSM.3: 44 - NadaNada’s voice: “the transgendered, they don’t feel that they are male at all, and they feel not very okay withany kind of male word to address themselves… use just their own experience and transfer it from generationto generation to generation, so lots of myth and misunderstanding about sexual health issues go around likea circle, like a loop. So this cause very high incidence/rates of HIV and any kind of sexual health problem... Iknow what is going on, that is why the sexpert still must keep working hard to reach our transgendermembers in our community. It looks like we are not just into our sexual health and prevention program, butit is because transgender is different from MSM or gay.4:39 - NarratorRealizing that they needed a special program specifically designed for transgender people, when the MPlusgrant ended, the team decided to apply their new Sexpert experience and adapt the MPlus programspecifically for the transgender context. In September 2011, with support from BABSEA Foundation and CLEFoundation, Nada and Dr. Chris Walsh created TLBz Sexperts. TLBz stands for Thai Lady Boys and is the firstvirtual community in Thailand designed to improve the quality of life and self-esteem of transgender peopleonline. The program has a website,, a Facebook page, and a Hotmail address, where people canemail the sexperts directly.
  3. 3. 5: 21 - NadaNada’s voice: “After the m plus sexpert program end, because the grants end also, we don’t want to juststop the very charming and sexy program to the new approach to HIV prevention to our community. Withall the m plus sexpert we quite successful”.Nada’s voice: We create [] through the Facebook, through TLBz Sexperts, through MS andinstant messaging []. We use the web board as a source like […] toapproach the interesting information like sexual health knowledge, the knowledge about basic humanrights, what are the transgender rights under the Thai Constitution, or internationally, what’s the movementnow, something like this. We link into the facebook, TLBxsexpert facebook, to keep posts of advertisementof now we are online.6:39 - NarratorTLBz Sexperts is meant to provide a space where transgender people can talk about issues of interest totransgender people, which include hormone use, beauty, boyfriends, sex, dealing with gendertransformation and related stigma. Through these conversations, the sexperts can provide informationabout safe sex, HIV and STI prevention, human rights and provide reference for legal consultations.7:03 - NadaNada’s voice: “We have university-based legal clinics nation-wide, we just find out where you are, so we tryto refer them to the legal clinic, or if the case quite serious, we know exactly who we can contact at thenational human rights commission. So then we just refer to them, and I myself will come up as an activist Ican support them too.7:31 - NarratorBecause this program utilizes existing technology, cost implications are very minimal.7:38 - NadaNada’s voice: “We pay just total $5000. About $170 US dollars for our peer each month, that includesinternet fee. This kind of volunteering program, and what we are looking at is to train the new peer, theperson who feel that they get the benefits from the TLBz sexpert. We try to empower them, but the big thingif you can be a part of the great program, to serve your life and to improve the better life of your friends andthe community. We helping each other because no one can help us”.8: 24 - NarratorThese programs are young; they are only at the implementation stage. It is not clear yet whether peopleare using the HIV information they get from TLBz Sexperts and MPlus chats to increase their condom use ordecrease risky behaviors. Getting people to USE those resources requires targeted dissemination to spaceswhere the population of interest is already engaging, so information about TLBz Sexperts chats are postedon relevant Facebook groups. Nada and her team are also actively reaching out in other spaces wherepeople seek information to make sure that the transgender population knows about Sexperts.
  4. 4. 9:00 - NadaNada’s voice: “: The best part is we know exactly what we are. Before you take any kind of intervention orimplementation program, sit back to learn about yourself first. I myself, on behalf of TLBz sexpert is quitesuccessful and famous because it’s starting from questioning myself who we are. Then go through this way,figure out, try to identify yourself, your community clearly, and then you know what kind of intervention orimplementation program in HIV prevention you can take to use it through the online world, through thecyber world”.9:40 - NarratorA successful use of social media allowed this program to better access the hard-to-reach population oftransgender people in Thailand. And Nada and her team did exactly that. They used the social media toidentify their target audience and their needs. With the help of technology, TLBz Sexperts reachedtransgender populations in online spaces. By investing time to learn about the needs of this targetaudience, the program weaved HIV prevention information into discussions of everyday topics that areimportant to transgender people in Thailand.10:11 – NadaNada’s voice: “This space is really a self-space for them to talk, to talk about anything they want to talkabout on transgender issues. It looks like we are not just into our sexual health and prevention program, butit is because transgender is different from MSM or gay, okay. We do it together like a powwow, why we tryto empower them to build up their self-esteem through the… to make them love their body, so we addinformation about sexual health prevention to get it all the time. Like yes, you look gorgeous now, you reachthe goal, you have whatever you need to be a good transgender woman, but you should maintain it by livehealthy. So what kind of health issues: one of the big parts of sexual life because we know that you want tolook beauty because you want to get a good guy. So then how to get a good guy and have a healthy life soHIV prevention is a big part of youth concerns. So we provide creative counseling”.11:24 - NarratorThis approach can be duplicated by programs around the world to promote positive sexuality and publichealth messages to most-at-risk communities. Nada and her team used the advantage of social media toolsavailable to them, learned about what was important to their target audience and delivered relevant HIVprevention messages. In other words, know your epidemic, know your response, and get the informationout in innovative and effective modes of communication.This podcast has been brought to you by AIDSTAR-One. AIDSTAR-One provides technical assistance andprogram implementation support to USAID Missions and Bureaus, as well as global technical leadershipactivities on behalf of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Reliefs (PEPFAR) Technical WorkingGroups. AIDSTAR-One is funded by PEPFAR through USAID. Visit for more information onthis and other HIV technical topics.