amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

GRASSROOTS: The GMT Initiative Blog

amfAR's GMT Initiative supports grassroots organizations that respond to the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS among gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender individuals (collectively, GMT).

Reaching Out to “Outcasts” in Ukraine’s Prisons: A Photo Essay

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The Penitentiary Initiative, a long-term GMT Initiative partner, based in Nikolaev, Ukraine, provides HIV outreach and social support in seven prisons in the Ukraine. Outreach workers visit each prison once or twice a month to work with three types of inmates: General inmates who are involved in an HIV prevention program, those living openly with HIV, and those deemed “outcasts” because of their real or perceived GMT sexual orientation. Outcasts are relegated to the worst jobs in the prison, targeted for physical and sexual abuse, and frequently humiliated.

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The Penitentiary Initiative provides all three groups with psychosocial support, HIV/AIDS education, self-confidence training, career training, and a safe place to gather and talk. It also trains the participants to provide HIV outreach to inmates who are not part of the program. With support from amfAR, The Penitentiary Initiative developed a manual that is guiding Ministry of Justice employees as they work to implement similar programs in other Ukrainian prisons. These are some of the participants from two of the prisons where the organization works, Colony 53 and Colony 93.

Photos and interviews by Chris Vail.

Delivering Results on LGBT Research in Kenya

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Posted by Kent Klindera March 31, 2014

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Kenyan LGBT activists discuss their community research priorities.

Last week in Nairobi, Kenya, amfAR hosted a meeting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community activists, in partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). For a day and a half, we debated past, current, and future research being conducted on LGBT issues and HIV in Kenya, with the aim of developing a strategic LGBT research agenda for the future.  Although it was quite a successful meeting, what was most troubling to me was hearing about past experiences the activists had working with outside researchers.

Repeatedly, the community activists talked about academics “coming in” to work with the communities and then “going out” with their data to analyze, publish, and disseminate with little regard for the community they had investigated. One activist talked about how so many research studies had been conducted in his community, each assessing the needs or sexual behavior of the LGBT community, yet so little impact had actually come from the data. The activists said that community members were tired of talking to researchers about their needs, when no new programming to actually meet those needs arises.

At the meeting we discussed how to change that troubling paradigm by involving the community in study design and implementation. At the end, a core group of LGBT community activists formed a plan to help GALCK, IAVI, and amfAR both engage researchers in a research agenda focusing on the issues the community thinks are the most pressing, and also raise support for programming that addresses the real needs documented by that research.  Some of the questions comprising that new agenda include:

  • What is the relationship between homophobia/transphobia, anti-homosexuality laws, and the spread of HIV?

  • How can we best promote antiretroviral (ARV) adherence among LGBT living with HIV?  What factors inhibit adherence?

  • How does gender-based violence in LGBT communities link to HIV infection?

  • What are the health and human rights needs of lesbian, bi, and trans individuals? (All studies to date have focused on gay men and other men who have sex with men, with none looking at the rest of the community.)

  • Is it easier to “come out” now in society? If so, what are the factors that made it easier to do so?

  • After 10 years of activism in Kenya, what are the milestones in LGBT rights, what has been successful, and what is lacking?

  • What is the impact of new media, including social media, on LGBT Rights? 

For the first time, the discussions at this meeting were putting the activists in the driver’s seat to define their own research agenda, and what was interesting to me was how real and honest the discussion was They talked frankly about their communities’ needs, which primarily revolved around the pervasive homophobia and transphobia in society that inhibit their lives. Many recognized how internalized homophobia —the internalized shame associated with same sex attraction— helped fuel the external homophobia witnessed by all participants because when one is ashamed of oneself, it is very difficult to see the need to assist others. 

In June, we will be hosting another meeting in Kenya.  This time, researchers, community colleagues, and donors will meet to take this new research agenda forward and to develop strategies to link funding and programs for the LGBT community in Kenya to this agenda. 

The Impact of the Nigerian and Ugandan Anti-Gay Laws on Public Health

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Posted by John Power on March 18, 2014

Protestors in front of the of the Nigerian Consulate in New York during the March 7 Global Day of Action against the Nigerian anti-gay law. 
Protestors in front of the of the Nigerian Consulate in New York during the March 7 Global Day of Action against the Nigerian anti-gay law.

Studies have clearly shown that criminalizing same-sex sexual behavior poses an immense structural barrier to HIV prevention. It “drives men away from services, reduces the likelihood of disclosure of risks to providers and partners, and makes men vulnerable to blackmail,” Dr. Chris Beyrer, the current president-elect of the International AIDS Society, wrote in 2010. Indeed, Nigeria and Uganda’s new anti-gay laws are already proving that they will be extremely destructive to efforts to combat HIV. In both countries, same-sex behavior was already illegal, but the new laws increase the severity of the prison sentences faced by LGBT and criminalize organizations that serve them.

Reports indicate numerous LGBT Nigerians have been assaulted and arrested since its “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition” law was signed in January. On February 25, days after a similar bill was signed into law, a major Ugandan tabloid published a list of “Uganda’s 200 Top Homos,” prompting fears of attacks and arrests among Ugandan LGBT. As a result, healthcare centers serving GMT have closed their doors in both countries amidst fears of mob attacks, leaving GMT without HIV treatment and prevention services. Furthermore, many GMT have gone into hiding and are afraid that they will be targeted at health centers.

Since these laws also criminalize LGBT organizations, activists and healthcare providers are uncertain how they will affect the organizations that continue to provide GMT with HIV services. Will the ten-year prison sentence for Nigerians who “make public show of same sex amorous relationships” apply to patients who disclose their identity as GMT to their doctor? Will Ugandan healthcare workers report HIV-positive GMT to the police, leading to life sentences? Will Ugandans who distribute condoms to GMT or the healthcare workers who treat them be punished with a seven-year prison term for “aiding or abetting of homosexuality”?

Although HIV is diminishing in other parts of the world, the epidemic is a growing problem in these two countries. The latest data show that Nigerian MSM have an HIV prevalence of 17.2%, compared to the nationwide prevalence of 4.1%. An estimated 13.7% of Ugandan MSM are HIV positive, compared to a 7% prevalence nationwide. Without reform, the new laws will only cause these rates to rise. This is especially devastating in light of the recent progress that both countries had made in addressing HIV among GMT. Nigeria, for example, had one of the few African governments that had developed robust MSM-specific HIV goals. These included reducing HIV prevalence among MSM from 17.2% to 8.5%, increasing MSM condom use from 52.8% to 80%, and increasing the percentage of MSM who have been tested for HIV in the past year from 31.5% to 50%. Unlike most other African governments, the Nigerian government even designed a package of HIV services for MSM, which it aimed to deliver to 80% of them by 2015.

However, new reports indicate that the Nigerian government will no longer monitor HIV among GMT, a sign that its GMT programs will also be brought to a halt. We should not allow ourselves to be fooled by Nigerian and Ugandan government officials who proclaim that anti-gay laws won’t set back the HIV response or cause GMT to be discriminated against in the healthcare setting. The new wave of discrimination has already begun.

Developments over the past three weeks have also shown that the laws’ effect extends beyond national borders. For example, activists in Kenya have been threatened by mob justice, and Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, and other countries have all seen a reinvigorated flurry of movement toward similar anti-gay legislation. Since these are countries where GMT are also disproportionately affected by HIV, this type of legislation will only impose further barriers to the HIV response.

If governments across Africa don’t reverse their course and commit to delivering equitable healthcare to GMT, the consequences could be disastrous. The gravity of the moment requires immediate steps to protect the rights of GMT, a sharp push to monitor GMT health, and a concerted effort to repeal the anti-gay laws or overturn them in the courts.

Global Day of Action: A Nigerian Asylee’s Story about the Effects of the Anti-Same Sex Marriage Law

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Posted by Lucile Scott March 6, 2014

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The Solidarity Alliance, a coalition of Nigerian LGBT-focused human rights and HIV/AIDS organizations and individuals, has organized a March 7 Global Day of Action “for the world to stand in solidarity with LGBTI Nigerians” and speak out against the Anti-Same Sex Marriage bill that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law in January. Scroll down to find out how you can participate.

The law punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage or union with 14 years in prison and those who participate in LGBT organizations, societies, or relationships with 10 years—a category that could include HIV service providers targeting GMT, potentially gutting the national HIV response. Another draconian anti-LGBT law was enacted in Uganda in February, and Kenya and Malawi are beginning to consider similar draft laws. amfAR talked to Alex (not his real name), 37, a gay man from Nigeria, who has been granted asylum in the U.S., about the on- the-ground situation in Nigeria, where anti-LGBT violence is increasing and HIV services are shutting down. The following is excerpted from that interview.

I left Nigeria and sought asylum in the U.S. in July of 2012. At the time I was working as a referral officer for an organization funded by the Global Fund. I worked mostly with MSM throughout the north-central zone. I held meetings and provided guys with peer education, taught them to use condoms correctly, got them tested, and if they tested positive, got them to go to a clinic that was safe for GMT. Before, even though it was frowned upon to be gay and people would cuss at you or tease you and sometimes beat you, lives weren’t in danger.

“Before, even though it was frowned upon to be gay and people would cuss at you or tease you and sometimes beat you, lives weren’t in danger.”After this bill passed the Senate in 2011, people started to notice that it was only men in our meeting, and they figured it out. I was beaten almost to the point of death when I was walking home from a meeting. They were beating me, kicking me all over. I got to a time I couldn’t even cry out anymore. There were also calls and threats. After I was beaten a second time, I knew it was time to leave. And now that the bill is law, the violence is even worse. People have died and a lot more are going to die.

This law is going to cause the HIV rate in Nigeria to double. It’s only been in the past few years that the government has worked with us or targeted GMT with HIV services, but now the HIV services for GMT are being shut down. Many MSM in Nigeria have wives. And more are now going into hiding and they will secretly sleep with men and fear seeking out HIV services and they will infect their wives, their girlfriends, and the other men.

The Nigerian government is corrupt and this bill is a distraction. Passing it is the only successful thing the government has done in a decade. The country doesn’t have lights, or enough food, or good education, and the only thing they’ve done is to pass a law to kill people. People say being gay is against our religion, it is against our tradition. Being gay is as old as man and there are accounts in history that imply it was accepted in Africa before colonialism and Christianity. And if you say you are trying to serve God, he said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” He didn’t say, “Love everybody, hate gay people.” I look at the videos on the internet from Nigeria that are sent to us and I see the way my people are treated, and my whole day is messed up at work, I cry through the night, because there is nothing I can do. I have a video where the police stand by and watch while a mob beats two guys to death, like animals. I knew one of the guys. But the government says, “Oh, that never happened.”

When I got here, before I had asylum, I had a visa but no social security number or way to get work. An AIDS organization in New York took me and my friend in. I am HIV positive and they helped me find health insurance so I could get medication and gave us housing and a job. My friend and I were the first LGBT people seeking asylum that the organization helped. Now they have nearly a dozen. And with this law, there will be more and more who need help. But most people cannot leave Nigeria. This Global Day of Action we need to show that people and the international community disapprove, because the voice of the international community is very strong.

And I am very grateful for everything the American government and people have done. I hope to go back to Nigeria one day to see my family, but my first allegiance is to the American people now. I am still part of them [the Nigerian people], but I’ve given up my citizenship. This is my home now.

What you can do on the March 7 Global Day of Action—and every day until the Nigerian law is overturned:

Post a message of support on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media using: #IStandWith9jaLGBT

For these posts you can say this, or something like it:
“I stand with the LGBTI community in Nigeria. The anti-gay law is unconstitutional and violates Nigerian and international human rights law.”

Attend a rally in New York, Washington, D.C., or London.

All three events are coordinated and scheduled to take place from 11:00a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

New York City, 11:00 a.m., The Nigerian Consulate, 828 2nd Ave., New York, NY 10017 (corner of E 44th Street)

Washington, D.C., 11:00 a.m., The Nigerian Embassy, 3519 International Ct. NW

London, 4:00 p.m., The Nigeria High Commission, 9 Northumberland Ave.

Or organize your own in a different city. If you do, please contact Michael Ighodaro at alliance.ighodaro@gmail.com in North America or Adebisi Alimi at bisialimi@gmail.com in the U.K. and let them know.

Sign a petition.

You can also call your elected officials and ask what they are doing to fight the bill and protect the safety of LGBT living in Nigeria and Uganda, or wear a t-shirt or badge stating your support.

Ugandan President Signs Anti-Gay Bill into Law and Nigeria Gears Up for Global Day of Action

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Posted by Lucile Scott February 24, 2014

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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality bill into law on February 24. (Photo: U.S. Army Africa)

As protests surrounding the Sochi Olympics focused the world’s attention on Russia’s homophobic law against “gay propaganda”, draconian anti-gay legislation was passed in Nigeria and Uganda. Previously, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had stated that, while he believed homosexuals were “sick,” he did not think they should be imprisoned for life and would therefore not sign a bill, passed by Parliament in December, that punishes homosexuality with life in prison and outlaws “promotion of homosexuality”—including HIV outreach targeting GMT. The president changed his position last week, saying that “scientists” had presented him with research findings showing that homosexuality is not genetic, but a learned behavior. "It was learned and could be unlearned," he said.

In Nigeria, the Solidarity Alliance, a coalition of Nigerian human rights organizations, announced a March 7 Global Day of Action to condemn the “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act” that was signed by President Goodluck Jonathan in January. Like the Ugandan law, it puts both LGBT and the health providers and educators working with them at risk of criminal prosecution and guts the response to HIV. “Right now, HIV work with MSM is largely stalled as those of us working in the field are concerned for the safety of the community,” says Morenike Ukpong, coordinator at Nigeria’s New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society, a GMT Initiative grantee partner. “Those still working in the field have had to shift their focus from HIV programming to protecting people’s lives and property.”

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Dr. Paul Semugoma (right) with his partner Brian Kanyemba (left)

As part of the campaign surrounding the Global Day of Action, the Solidarity Alliance is asking supporters worldwide to sign a petition calling for Nigerian officials to stop arresting people for their sexual orientation and to start prosecuting individuals who assault members of the LGBT community. Stay tuned for more updates on what you can do in March.

The week also brought more instances of the homophobic violence and arrests that have been on the rise in both countries since the bills’ passage. In Nigeria, a pastor in the small village of Gishiri organized a mob that broke into the homes of approximately 15 people suspected of being gay in the middle of the night, looted their belongings, and dragged them to a police station. None of the attackers were prosecuted.

Prominent Ugandan-born LGBT advocate Dr. Paul Semugoma was arrested in South Africa and nearly deported to Uganda, where he is “wanted” for his advocacy against the bill. His nearly week-long detention by immigration officials continued even after a South African court ordered his release. He was finally released on February 20.

On February 16, after Museveni announced that he planned to sign the bill, President Obama issued a statement that enacting the legislation would “complicate our valued relationship with Uganda,” a recipient of U.S. developmental aid. In a statement, Museveni responded: “Africans do not seek to impose their views on anybody. We do not want anybody to impose their views on us.”

A coalition of Ugandan human rights advocates released a plan for how the international community could most effectively support their efforts against the legislation without sparking an anti-Western backlash that could exacerbate the violence. The plan asks the U.S., the U.K., E.U. member states, and other countries to recall their ambassadors from Nigeria and Uganda and to urge the Presidents of both countries to ensure that the law does not affect national health policies pertaining to LGBT, does not give rise to increased police brutality towards the community, and does not interrupt the work of NGOs. The advocates also requested assistance engaging the African Union and the leadership of other African nations, including Rwanda, South Africa, and Mozambique, to speak out against the bill.

 

Global Day of Action: Act Now against the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill

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Posted By Lucile Scott February 10, 2014

*Update: On February 14, President Yoweri Museveni issued a statement that “scientists” had presented him with research findings showing that homosexuality is not genetic, but a learned behavior and that he would therefore sign the bill—though he has yet to do so. International outcry against the bill is now more critical than ever.

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A Global Day of Action protest against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in front of the Uganda High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya.

HIV and LGBT activists in Uganda have designated today, February 10, Global Day of Action against the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The Ugandan Parliament passed the bill, which punishes homosexuality with life in prison, on December 20, 2013. In January, President Yoweri Museveni stated he would most likely not sign it, prompting many LGBT supporters around the world to believe the bill will not become law. The Global Day of Action was organized to call attention to the fact that it could easily still be enacted and that diplomats and leaders worldwide need to pressure the President to finally kill this discriminatory bill. See what you can do to show your support below.

If the President simply does nothing, the bill will return to Parliament on February 23, when a two-thirds majority can make it law without his signature. According to representatives from Spectrum Uganda, an amfAR GMT Initiative grantee partner and one of the organizers of the Global Day of Action, the bill has more than 90% support in Parliament. However, the President could convince his party, which has the majority in Parliament, to drop the bill or ask for an extension for further consultation to prevent it from returning for a new vote in February. “We need to let Uganda know, through this Day of Action, that the world is watching,” states the call to action issued by Uganda’s Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights & Constitutional Law.

Even in this state of legal limbo, the bill’s negative impact has begun. “There has been an increase in the number of arrests, in intimidation, in public outings by the media, of harassment in public spaces and work places and by landlords, and of mob justice and religious hate speeches,” says Moses Kimbugwe, programs and advocacy director at Spectrum Uganda. “Some of our clients have been arrested and our peer educators are in hiding.”

uganda - protest - death penaltyThe bill punishes homosexuality with life in prison. Same-sex sexual behavior has been illegal in Uganda since British colonial times. This bill not only increases the severity of the prison sentence, but also criminalizes the “promotion of homosexuality,” a category that could include HIV outreach and services targeting GMT.  Spectrum Uganda, which last year provided HIV services to more than 500 members of the GMT community, has already been forced to shut down its HIV outreach and health services due to safety concerns.

If the bill becomes law, government and private healthcare providers that Spectrum and other advocates have trained to provide GMT-friendly HIV services will likely also no longer be able to do so.  It will decimate the response among the community and significantly set back the fight against AIDS in the country, where the HIV rate, after steadily declining from the early 1990s to 2005, has begun to creep back up and is currently approximately 7% nationwide. The government does not track the HIV rate among GMT, so the exact rate is unknown, but is likely much higher than that of the general population.

When the bill was first introduced in Parliament in 2009, it called for punishing same-sex sexual conduct with the death penalty, giving it the nickname, the “Kill the Gays Bill.” That provision was removed in 2012 due to international pressure from high profile diplomats and leaders, including President Obama—the kind of pressure Spectrum and its partners are hoping the Day of Action will prompt. “Certain interest groups, some religious, some political, generate the fictions stated in this bill for their own purposes,” says Peter Katusab, the security and emergency officer at Spectrum Uganda.  “And it shows that there are some very evil forces welling up in the Ugandan psyche. They are the same dynamics of the Rwandan genocide and Hitler’s Germany. It is most worrying.”

What you can do to stop this bill—not only today, but every day until it is permanently defeated:
Post on social media:

Tweet “Don’t prosecute; protect LGBT Ugandans: The world is watching” to these handles: @AmambaMbabazi, @Parliament_UG, and @StateHouseUg

Or post any message of support on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media using:
@Ugandans4rights, #AHBGlobaldayofaction, #Love4UgandanLGBTI, or #stopAHB

For these posts you can say this, or something like it:
“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere: I stand in solidarity with the LGBTI community in Uganda. I stand on the side of human rights. I say NO to the anti-gay bill.”

You can also organize a protest or vigil, call your elected officials and ask what they are doing to fight the bill and protect the safety of LGBT living in Uganda, wear a t-shirt or badge stating your support, or start a petition. If you organize a protest or vigil, please contact the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law at ahbcoalition.coordinator@gmail.com and let them know.

The Indian Supreme Court’s Decision to Recriminalize Homosexuality: The Impact on HIV

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Posted by Lucile Scott on February 5, 2014

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Indians take to the street to protest the Supreme Court decision recriminalizing homosexuality. (Photo: ThinkProgress)

In 2009, the Delhi High Court overturned Section 377 of the Indian Constitution, a colonial-era law stating that same-sex sexual conduct is an "unnatural offence" punishable by a 10-year jail term. The Delhi decision called the law discriminatory and added that sex between consenting adults should never be a crime. On December 11, the Indian Supreme Court overturned that decision. This recriminalization of homosexuality sparked vocal outrage, not only among an LGBT community asserting that its members couldn’t simply return to the closet after four years, but across the social spectrum—from political leaders to Bollywood stars. All agree that a law violating citizens’ human rights has no place in a modern democracy.

The Indian government had chosen not to appeal the 2009 Delhi High Court decision (the appeal was brought by conservative groups), implicitly supporting that decision, and following the December ruling, the government filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision. On January 28, the court dismissed the petition, leaving the ruling in place. amfAR talked to James Robertson, executive director of the India HIV/AIDS Alliance, and Javid Syed, program director at American Jewish World Services, about the  on-the-ground impact of the startling decree.

WAD_2012_JR.jpgJames Robertson, executive director of the India HIV/AIDS Alliance, speaking during World AIDS Day 2012. 

amfAR: What reactions to the decision have you seen in India?

James: First, what happened in 2009 wasn’t really the result of a huge social movement that built up over time, but the effort of a few very smart people who saw an opportunity under the Indian constitution to question this law. That is one reason we’ve slipped back. The gay rights movement didn’t build the necessary political and social support. So that’s what people are talking about now—how to build a coherent and broad-based movement. Legal change is the result of social change, and in the past two months, I have seen the gay rights movement build energy and urgency that we didn’t have before. I think that India will actually gain from this in the longer term.

Javid: The English language media in India has been overwhelmingly against the ruling and positive. Other language media apparently is more of a mixed bag. On the political front, the ruling Congress party came out against the Supreme Court verdict, but the main opposition party, BJP, came out for it, and it is highly unlikely that the Congress government will get enough support amongst the legislature to change this law.

amfAR: Has the recriminalization of homosexuality had an impact on HIV outreach, or do you think it will in the future?

James: We are running the largest MSM and transgender program in India, outside of the government. Nowhere have we seen that just focusing on condoms solves the problem of HIV. Particularly in marginalized groups, the fact that they question their self-worth and social value and face discrimination in their daily lives is hugely important when it comes to HIV risk. So will the recriminalization of homosexuality have an impact on our work? How could it not? We already have reports of HIV outreach workers being harassed by police. I think it may also create problems with outreach materials about anal sex. If you say, ‘Wear a condom when you have sex,’ that’s not incredibly helpful if someone thinks sex just means vaginal intercourse and thinks anal intercourse is something else. We need to be very clear about the risk factors and this law is a consideration in openly discussing that.

The Indian Supreme Court building. (Photo: Legaleagle86)The Indian Supreme Court building. (Photo: Legaleagle86)

Javid: The government has taken huge strides to overtly support the connection between the human rights of most-at-risk populations and an effective HIV response. It is unlikely that these programs will go away, though the verdict does now put parts of the government response in contradiction with the law.

James: The government isn’t backing away from prevention and that’s good, but not recognizing that the decision will create barriers is naïve. We still have a couple hundred thousand more people we need to bring into our HIV program for GMT, and this could cause many of them not to join. And in India, even if that’s just 10% of the people who might have signed up, that’s a large number. We now have one-sixth of the world’s population living under a backwards 19th century British law. But now we can’t blame the British. Modern India at the highest level made this judicial error and travesty. Many of us know what the right side of history is. India is now not on it.

 

Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act and HIV

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Posted by Kent Klindera on January 17, 2014

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President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act on January 7. (Photo: World Economic Forum)

Last week, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ignored local and international pressure and signed one of the world’s most discriminatory pieces of legislation related to LGBT rights. In early December, I visited Abuja, Nigeria, to attend a national conference on new HIV prevention technologies. It was an excellent conference that challenged Nigerians within government and civil society to increase their commitment to biomedical HIV prevention efforts, such as increasing antiretroviral access for people living with HIV to reduce their viral load, and thus reduce the likelihood they can pass HIV on to others. 

A large portion of the conference focused on programming and services for key affected populations—including, of course, gay men, other MSM and transgender (GMT) individuals. Nigeria has the world’s second largest HIV epidemic and study after study presented indicated that in Nigeria, as in so many African countries, a high percentage of GMT folks are infected with HIV and clearly in need of greater attention. Government representatives from the Ministry of Health were very receptive to improving their HIV programming to better serve GMT, and I left Nigeria with a lot of hope for a bright 2014.

ban ki moon statementUN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced the law, stating it would “fuel violence." (Photo: World Economic Forum)Now, on a daily basis, I am receiving word of LGBT individuals being hunted, arrested, and persecuted by police and vigilante groups. Same-sex sexual conduct is already illegal in Nigeria, but the “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act” extended that criminalization by making any persons involved in a same-sex wedding, even those who attend, subject to arrest. It also outlaws LGBT organizations—the very same organizations that are part of a core strategy being used by the National AIDS Commission to address HIV in the country.  Millions of dollars have already been invested in these organizations, with most of it coming from USAID, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and other international donors—all for naught, it now seems.

What amazed me about the conference I attended was the attendees’ passion about developing one of the strongest AIDS responses in Africa. Speaker after speaker, as well as government dignitaries and activists in the audience, expressed their commitment to a coordinated and compassionate response to HIV in Nigeria. This new law is a complete slap in the face to those dignitaries, speakers, and activists, and a complete waste of donor aid monies already invested in a fragile HIV response. 

What is even more shocking is the lack of response from national leaders within the Nigerian health and human rights community. Global leaders, including  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Global Fund Executive Director Mark Dybul, and many others, have demanded justice and that the Nigerian Supreme Court strike down the law—as well as an explanation for the global AIDS funding that is being wasted. 

Where is the Nigerian leadership?

Trans Activism at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa

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Posted by Ben Clapham on January 8, 2014

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amfAR’s Ben Clapham (second from left) and GMT advocates promote sex workers’ rights at ICASA.

I recently spent a week in Cape Town, South Africa, with HIV activists and community workers from across Africa at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA). This conference saw a vast improvement in LBGTI activists’ ability to be seen and heard over the last ICASA, which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2011.  Addis Ababa proved to be a difficult and even dangerous place for LGBTI HIV activists to organize due to the conservative sociopolitical context in Ethiopia, where same-sex sexual conduct is illegal. The MSM pre-conference had to be moved to a secure UN building after protesters threatened to burn down the hotel where it was originally scheduled to take place. This year’s MSM pre-conference was flawlessly executed thanks to the more favorable sociopolitical context in South Africa, where discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal and same-sex marriage is legal.

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Protestors at ICASA demand that China contribute more to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

While attending the conference, I had the opportunity to meet with many trans sex workers and trans activists who explained that they felt that their voices were really being heard. A few trans activists presented oral presentations about the trans community’s HIV needs. Increasing visibility for trans activists is important anywhere in the world. However, in Africa there is little understanding of trans individuals and even less motivation or will to provide them with competent, stigma-free health services, making it especially essential that they can speak up about their needs and rights at ICASA.

Beyoncé, a trans activist from Uganda, said that ICASA this year was “very important for trans people to be heard, for our needs to be voiced, and for government and regional decision makers to better understand our community.” However, many activists stated that the number of posters and presentations submitted and accepted by LBGTI people was still lower than expected, even though they seemed to be more accepted in Cape Town than in Ethiopia. But the overall feeling at ICASA was definitely more positive and open. The opening ceremony even featured a trans singer from Angola—a clear sign that GMT issues are increasingly more visible in Africa.

The location of ICASA is an important factor in the ability of LGBTI HIV activists and community workers to organize, advocate, and protest. However, the next ICASA is currently slated to take place in Tunis, Tunisia, which, like Ethiopia, outlaws same-sex sexual activity, and where security concerns could again impede the GMT community’s visibility.

The Facts: Emerging HIV Prevention Technologies for GMT

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Posted by Lucile Scott on December 13, 2013

Recent research advances have added many exciting new tools to our arsenal of strategies for preventing HIV transmission among GMT; however, in many regions access to them and awareness about them remain limited. The GMT Initiative has created a series of fact sheets in English, French, and Spanish on these evolving prevention approaches that explain exactly what they are and how they can help provide the best and most comprehensive package of prevention services for GMT.

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John Meletse, the outreach officer at Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) in South Africa, leading a workshop on HIV prevention in sign language.

The fact sheets also serve as a tool to advocate for the interventions’ increased availability. “The fact sheets will inform community leaders and activists about the importance of these new biomedical approaches to preventing HIV among GMT populations as they formulate their advocacy agendas,” says Kent Klindera, director of the GMT Initiative. They will be introduced at the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) December 7–11, but apply to GMT and activists both in and outside Africa.

The four fact sheets discuss post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP); pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP); the HIV treatment cascade; and screening and preventing HPV, genital warts, and anal cancer. None of these tools should be used as a person’s only prevention strategy, but in conjunction with other approaches, including condoms and lubricant, safer sex counseling, regular sexually transmitted infection (STI) check-ups and treatment, and regular HIV testing. Download the fact sheets today to learn more—and then distribute them widely.