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).

HIV Outreach and Conflict in the Congo

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Posted by Lucile Scott, December 12, 2014

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Aimée Furaha (left), head of AHUSADEC’s sex worker program, and Raphael Ngeleza, director of AHUSADEC.

Eleven years ago, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was at the center of a brutal five-year conflict known as “Africa's world war" that resulted in millions of deaths and regional instability. While a peace accord was signed in 2003, fighting and violence persist in the eastern part of the DRC, where several armed militias continue to vie for control of the country’s wealth of minerals, including cobalt, gold, diamonds, and coltan, a metallic ore used in cell phones and laptops.

East-DRC is also home to GMT Initiative grantee partner Action Humanitaire Pour la Santé et le Développement Communautaire (AHUSADEC), which provides HIV testing, counseling, and outreach services to gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender (GMT) individuals and to female and GMT sex workers. It is the only group in this part of the country targeting GMT individuals with HIV services.

“East-DRC is a place where there have been many conflicts, rapes, and sexual violence and many public health problems in general, but now, thanks to AHUSADEC, with amfAR’s support, GMT individuals can benefit from HIV interventions for the first time,” says Freud Muciza, who works for the DRC’s national AIDS program and was contracted by amfAR to assist AHUSADEC in further developing its organizational capacity and impact.

While the mines in the East Congo produce substantial profit, the local population receives little of the economic benefits—but bears all the costs of the endemic violence. The widespread rape of women as a tactic of war caused a senior UN official to dub DRC “the rape capital of the world” in 2010, and the violence displaced more than 100,000 people throughout the country in 2013 alone.

Bukavu, the city where AHUSADEC is based, has a large United Nations and police presence, and many refugees, usually from the rural villages near the mines, often come there, further straining the city’s already taxed housing, employment, and health infrastructure. In the midst of all this instability and flux, successfully reaching GMT individuals, a highly marginalized, stigmatized, and often hidden population, is difficult. The severe stigma around homosexuality has also prevented other groups from using their resources, which are often limited, to target them.

And while many of the international humanitarian groups in Bukavu are operated by foreigners in headquarters enclosed by protective walls, AHUSADEC is run entirely by locals out of a white stucco house with a large, welcoming front porch. The building provides a place for GMT individuals, many of whom have been kicked out of their homes or denied jobs because of their sexual orientation, to feel welcome and like they are part of a community. “They trained me as a peer educator and I felt I had a direction and purpose,” says Daniel, 19, a client who has been performing peer outreach services for one year. “I am proud to be part of this important work.”

Data about GMT individuals in the country is limited, but according to the latest UNAIDS progress report, the HIV rate among men who have sex with men (MSM) is 18%. Due to limited services targeting MSM, few are reached with HIV prevention messaging, and the report also estimates that only about 15% use condoms regularly—meaning the rate could easily rise if more men are not accessed with testing and prevention messages, like those provided by AHUSADEC. Even more challenging, almost no data exists on transgender individuals. 

AHUSADEC is also working to combat the stigma, discrimination, and violence GMT individuals encounter, both in healthcare settings and in society in general. They have a program to train police to prevent violence against GMT individuals and they also accompany clients who test positive for HIV to the hospital to prevent them from experiencing discrimination. “amfAR has helped us respond to discrimination,” says Bienfait, a nurse who performs HIV tests and counseling at AHUSADEC. “Before GMT individuals would not go to the hospital because of discrimination, and now an AHUSADEC staff member or volunteer helps them navigate the services.”

And because many GMT individuals are not aware of AHUSADEC’s services or are hesitant to seek them out at AHUSADEC’s offices, the staff makes weekly visits to bars frequented by GMT individuals to perform mobile HIV testing. During one recent mobile testing visit, Bienfait and the staff set up in a fence-in dirt yard behind the bar, which, like most establishments in Bukavu, is subject to frequent electrical brownouts. A bartender announced over a loudspeaker that free HIV tests would be offered out back, and soon the bar patrons began to line up, and Bienfait, sitting behind a small plastic table in his white lab coat, began testing them one by one.

You can view photos of AHUSADEC and its mobile testing program below.

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‘My Condom, My Lube’ Video Released in Ghana

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Posted by Lucile Scott, November 7, 2014

 

In October, the Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights - Ghana (CEPEHRG) released a series of videos to educate gay men, other men who have sex with men (MSM), and transgender individuals (collectively, GMT) about the importance of using non-oil-based lube along with a condom every time they have sex as part of the GLAM (Global Lube Access Mobilization) project. GLAM is sponsored by amfAR, AVAC, COC Netherlands, and International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA) and funds innovative projects that promote better access to safe, affordable, condom-compatible lubricant in sub-Saharan Africa.

blog-post-IMG-20140926-WA0003.jpgA CEPEHRG peer educator performs outreach about the importance of condom-compatible lube. Using condom-compatible, water-based lubricant during anal sex prevents condom breakage and rectal inflammation that can increase risk of contracting HIV. However, despite the fact that condom-compatible lube is an essential part of safer sex, access to it remains scarce in most parts of the world. In one study conducted by researchers at John Hopkins University, only 25% of MSM surveyed in Botswana, Malawi, and Namibia used water-based lube during intercourse.

Lack of knowledge about the importance of using condom-compatible lube is one barrier to improving access to it. High cost is also a major impediment, and CEPEHRG hopes that the videos will not only increase awareness among GMT in Ghana, but also amp up advocacy efforts to improve access to free or affordable lube. The HIV rate among MSM in Ghana is approximately 17.5%, compared to 1.4% among the general population.

“Apart from CEPEHRG, most of the sexual health organizations in Ghana distribute only condoms—no lubricant, so most gay men resort to non-condom compatible, oil-based lubricants if they are out of the water-based lubricants they get from CEPEHRG and can’t afford the expensive KY jelly at the Ghanaian pharmacies,” says CEPEHRG’s Joseph Ochill.

CEPEHRG was the recipient of a 2014 GLAM grant. For more information on how to become a 2015 GLAM grantee, check www.amfar.org/gmt in March. You can also download The GLAM Toolkit here and start advocating for increased lube access in your area today.

The Impact of Local HIV Expertise in Africa

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Posted by Lucile Scott, October 20, 2014

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The meeting attendees visit the offices of GMT Initiative grantee partner HOYMAS in Nairobi.

Despite the fact that men who have sex with men (MSM) are 19 times more likely to have HIV than members of the general population, 80–90% of gay men and other MSM in low- and middle-income countries do not have access to HIV prevention and care services, according to the World Bank. amfAR’s GMT Initiative has provided small grants to nearly 200 grassroots, GMT-led HIV organizations to help them improve and scale-up the HIV services they provide for GMT, often in countries where homosexuality is highly stigmatized or illegal. “The GMT community itself knows how to best reach other GMT,” says Kent Klindera, director of the GMT Initiative. “We are often the first donor for fledgling groups that are of the community, for the community, and by the community, and for me, success is the grantee organizations being picked up by larger donors, like PEPFAR, the Global Fund, and national governments.”

These donors generally fund large, national NGOs and securing their grants requires formalized data collection and program evaluation systems, and strong financial management and strategic planning. Many GMT Initiative grantee partners have not only successfully established HIV testing, treatment, support, and awareness services for GMT in their communities, but have also helped to build GMT advocacy movements, many of which have successfully advocated for their government to include GMT in its national HIV plan for the first time. However, most GMT Initiative grantees are community activists with little prior experience running organizations and limited knowledge about how to document their programs’ success to secure more funding.

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MAAYGO’s Kennedy Otieno presents during the meeting.

To help them develop this organizational expertise, the GMT Initiative has provided grantees with technical assistance since its inception. Now, with financial support from Johnson & Johnson, the GMT Initiative is linking 10 grantees in Africa and Latin America with a local expert of their choice to work together on a more formal and ongoing basis. “Donors often have meetings to bring grantees together to build their skills, but after the three or four day training, they go home without enough knowledge to actually use the skills,” says Kent. “This model recognizes that there is expertise locally and those experts can work with grantees over an extended period.”

Recently, amfAR held a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, for the six African grantees in the program and their mentors to discuss their progress and ongoing challenges.  In Kisumu, Kenya, Men Against AIDS Youth Group (MAAYGO) is mentored by Dancan Omiendo, who currently works at ICAP, an international NGO, and previously managed a national capacity-building program while working at LVCT Health, a PEPFAR-funded NGO in Nairobi. Originally, Duncan offered MAAYGO his professional expertise on a volunteer basis, and the amfAR funding has allowed him to work with them more closely and regularly.

Alternatives-Cameroun’s Yves Yomb (right) with John Mathenge (left), director of HOYMAS.  
Alternatives-Cameroun’s Yves Yomb (right) with John Mathenge (left), director of HOYMAS.

“When amfAR came in we had some gaps in terms of organizational systems,” says Dancan. “We didn’t have a good organizational framework or indicators to measure, and we didn’t have good data collection and reporting tools.” After two years of amfAR support, that has changed. “Now, we are able to monitor the progress of our programs,” says Kennedy Otieno, health and programs coordinator at MAAYGO. With Duncan’s guidance, they have also managed to triple their budget during that time.

Yves Yomb, the executive director of Alternatives-Cameroun, which has been receiving amfAR funding since 2008, has worked with his mentor to improve Alternatives’ monitoring and evaluations system and to develop a formalized curriculum to train GMT peer educators. Alternatives is now using their experience to support newer GMT organizations in Cameroon, where homosexuality is illegal and LGBT are regularly jailed and subjected to violence. “Alternatives-Cameroun was the first LGBT organization in Cameroon and in the French part of Africa, and we are a kind of mentor for the new groups,” says Yves. “It is because we received the support of the GMT Initiative who believed in us and our project that we have had the opportunity to help create an LGBT community in Cameroon.”

Homosexuality is also illegal in Kenya, and earlier this year MAAYGO’s offices were raided by police. When asked what motivates him to do this work despite the risk, Kennedy answered, “In 2005, 6, 7, and 8, I saw the majority of my colleagues dying because of HIV. That is when I said, ‘We need to come out and start talking openly about these issues. If we continue hiding, we are only going to be wiped out by HIV.’ I’m a gay man and I know what challenges my community has.”

Apply to Be a 2015 amfAR HIV Scholar

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Posted by Lucile Scott, September 18, 2014

For the third consecutive year the GMT Initiative is teaming up with the Center for LGBT Health Research of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh to offer scholarships for four researchers from low- and middle-income countries to learn more about HIV prevention and care programs among GMT. The four amfAR HIV scholars will undertake five months of graduate level public health study at the Pittsburgh campus. Course topics include LGBT health research, research methods, and grant writing. The scholarships include round-trip travel to the U.S., housing, and a modest stipend.

The program aims to strengthen GMT community-based research and responses to HIV, often in areas where little data about HIV among GMT currently exists and where stigma and discrimination deter many GMT from seeking HIV testing and services. By the end of their stay, scholars will have not only improved their research skills, but also drafted a proposal for researching and implementing culturally appropriate strategies to improve HIV services in their respective regions that they will present to amfAR staff for potential funding.

“The strategies that work best for addressing HIV are those developed by community-based scholars and activists, and they have to have research data or their brilliant strategies won’t get funding,” says Dr. Ron Stall, chair of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences at Pitt Public Health. “The scholars are local heroes often doing this work at great risk to themselves, and we invest in them to help them get their programs off the ground.”

amfAR’s 2014 scholars are Friedel L. Dausab from the Society for Family Health in Windhoek, Namibia;  Kiromiddin Gulov from Equal Opportunities in Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Macland Njagi from IshtarMSM in Nairobi, Kenya; and Dr. Vorapot Sapsirisavat from HIV-NAT/Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre in Bangkok, Thailand. With amfAR’s support, each of these scholars are now conducting GMT-specific research back home and helping expand the international health field’s understanding of HIV epidemics in those contexts. “What amfAR is doing is really important and innovative,” says Dr. Sapsirisavat. “You can’t stop HIV in the developing world without investing in community-based research.”

Find out how to apply here.

Grassroots Growth in Mexico

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Posted by Ben Clapham, September 3, 2014

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amfAR’s Ben Clapham (center) with CDIJ’s Amaranta (left) and Amaya (right).

I first visited Centro de Desarrollo e Investigación sobre Juventud, A.C. (CDIJ) in Campeche, Mexico, in mid-2012, shortly after the organization’s founding.  At the time, CDIJ consisted of a dedicated team of just three people, all under 30, who worked on a volunteer basis out of the director’s house. The grant they received from amfAR that year to support their work among Mayan GMT was their first ever outside funding, and I came to help the young organization develop strategies to increase their visibility. They were the essence of a grassroots GMT organization, and it was truly motivating to see this youth-led organization attempt to do so much with so few resources.

Due to this dedication and the effectiveness of their early efforts, CDIJ now receives funding not only from amfAR, but also from other international donors, including the Global Fund. More importantly, they are the first GMT organization in Mexico to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Health. It states that the government will support and fund their work to improve GMT’s access to health services.

During a visit last week, I found myself seeing a whole new CDIJ. Upon my arrival, I was greeted at CDIJ’s new office space by a team that has more than tripled in size and that consists of a mix of paid and unpaid staff. They now have an office that looks like a gorgeous Mexican hacienda, complete with a sun-drenched terrace. When I first met the executive director, Antonio Maldonado, he was a little unsure about his new role, but he clearly possessed the motivation and desire for his work. Two years later it is as if I am meeting someone completely different. Antonio had every detail planned for my visit and he was leading his staff with confidence. “Antonio is a model for me. He has shown me that I am worth something and that I can and must help trans here in Campeche,” said Amaranta, CDIJ’s first trans staff member.

Generally, organizations focus on one population or the other, and CDIJ is one of few GMT organizations in the world that works closely with men who have sex with men and also has a strong trans-led program. The team has also established several other exciting programs. They provide HIV testing and counseling, host a support group for trans indigenous women, provide peer education and outreach to the community, and train healthcare workers at government-run facilities about how to address LGBT health needs.

I was so impressed by CDIJ’s growth in two short years. They truly represent what the GMT Initiative is all about—funding small, grassroots GMT organizations to increase their capacity so they can receive bigger grants from other international and local donors. I left Campeche feeling extremely proud to work at amfAR and be a part of a foundation where I get to experience these small but ever-so-important victories.

GMT Advocates Get Active at IAC

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Posted by Ben Clapham, August  4, 2014

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Simon Cazal, executive director of SOMOSGAY, a GMT Initiative grantee partner in Paraguay, presents during the International AIDS Conference.

When I arrived in Melbourne, Australia, for the International AIDS Conference (IAC), the mood was quite somber due to the tragic downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which had delegates travelling to the conference on board. But despite the loss, the conference went on, and there was even a sense of energy and excitement among the GMT activists who were present.

At the 2012 IAC in Washington, D.C., GMT issues were not very well represented, but this year there were many more sessions addressing GMT. This inspired a sense of accomplishment among the GMT delegates, whose intense advocacy efforts helped to bring about this change.

I had the pleasure of organizing one of those GMT sessions with Michael Joyner, director of ViiV Healthcare’s Positive Action program, which funds amfAR’s Evidence in Action program. The session, "Evidence in Action: Creating Evidence-Based Programming for Men Who Have Sex with Men and Transgender People," took place in the Global Village—an area of the conference center that houses community  networking zones, booths for community organizations, and stages for fashion shows and cultural performances. Fittingly, the session attendees were mostly community activists and program implementers.

Evidence in Action was established in 2012. As part of the program, grantee organizations work with local researchers with expertise in GMT HIV programming to conduct formalized evaluations of their programs. Through this process, the grantees produce official data on the success of their programs, which can help them get increased funding and reproduce their effective strategies on a larger scale. In addition to Michael and me, our panel included representatives from participating GMT Initiative grantee partners and their evaluators from Belize, Paraguay, El Salvador, and Grenada.

This was the first time that participants in the program presented their results, and we were very curious to see how the relationships between the community implementing partners and the researchers had worked. I was very pleased to hear that the experiences had been quite positive, and that the data showed that the organizational capacity of our community partners had improved, allowing them to broaden the impact of their services.

For example, C-NET+,  an organization in Belize, presented data showing that their home care program was able to expand to provide care to more than 50 GMT living with HIV, and that the patients in the program had a 100% adherence rate to their antiretroviral therapy. Previously, it had been difficult to get GMT to allow the outreach workers into their homes due to the extremely harsh stigma and discrimination in Belize surrounding HIV and homosexuality. SOMOSGAY, in Paraguay, presented data showing that their outreach and testing services resulted in a 20% increase in the number of GMT getting tested for HIV in Asuncion.

What is most exciting is that this data was created by and for the community. Unfortunately, too often, outside researchers come into community settings to gather data about GMT that then becomes “theirs.” They do not share it with the community, and it has little impact on their lives. The unique aspect of Evidence in Action is that the communities on the ground that need the data most for their advocacy and fundraising efforts have ownership of it. The community partners who participated in the session told me that this data represents far more than just indicators and results for a project. As Eric Castellanos, executive director  of C-NET+,  said, “This data legitimizes our existence as advocates fighting for the rights and health of gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender people.”

Dr. Paul Semugoma Discusses His Fight for LGBT Rights in Uganda

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Posted by Lucile Scott, July 10, 2014

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Dr. Paul Semugoma and Amirah Sequeira from the Student Global AIDS Campaign during amfAR’s “Making AIDS History: From Science to Solutions” event on Capitol Hill

Dr. Paul Semugoma will be honored by amfAR, the International AIDS Society and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation with the 2014 Elizabeth Taylor Human Rights Award at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, July 20. The award recognizes exemplary efforts to advance human rights in the field of HIV and AIDS.

Dr. Paul, as he is known to patients and friends, was among the first physicians in Uganda to provide HIV care and education for MSM. In 2009, he publicly opposed Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill after it was introduced in Parliament.  The bill, which was signed into law earlier this year, punishes same-sex sexual activity with life in prison and criminalizes the promotion of homosexuality—a category that includes providing HIV services that target LGBT. Due to his work advocating for LGBT rights, Dr. Paul was placed on a Ugandan “wanted list,” and in 2012 fear for his safety caused him to move to South Africa with his partner. This February, shortly after the Anti-Homosexuality Bill became law, he was detained at a Johannesburg airport and nearly deported back to Uganda, prompting an outpouring of support from LGBT advocates worldwide. In April, Dr. Paul spoke on a panel atMaking AIDS History: From Science to Solutions,” an amfAR-sponsored briefing on Capitol Hill. The following is excerpted from that event.

amfAR: Why did you begin addressing HIV among MSM in Uganda at a time when few other advocates or doctors were doing so?

Dr. Paul Semugona: When I started practicing medicine in Uganda, people really didn’t believe that HIV was a problem among MSM, and MSM were told that you get HIV from women, so they thought they were okay. Through a process of self-teaching, I realized that I had a big problem because I identified with a community that had no knowledge of a very big problem—HIV. So I made a program for my people in my country, Uganda.

amfAR: How has the Anti-Homosexuality Law impacted the ability of MSM to access HIV treatment and care in Uganda?

Dr. Paul: My friends are being arrested. The clinics where they go to get drugs are getting raided for promoting homosexuality. The doctors who are supposed to look after them are getting guidelines from the government that they are not supposed to promote homosexuality, so they will not tell MSM that getting HIV is a problem in the community, and they will not give them condoms or lubricant. MSM are being denied knowledge, being denied health, and being denied advocacy. But we can’t stop talking about the link between HIV and gay sexuality. Please don’t keep quiet. Silence is death. We are not promoting homosexuality. We are trying to control a disease, a virus.

amfAR: Could you describe your current work at Anova Health Institute in Johannesburg?

Dr. Paul: In South Africa, there is still a lot of stigma and discrimination towards gay men, but our patients know they can talk to their doctor about their experiences. We are given space where we can access medicines and care and protect our partners. All the advances happening in HIV in the world are accessible here at home. It gives me a belief that something like that can happen even in a country like Uganda. Uganda is not a good place to be as a gay person, but I am a gay African, and I will not let them take that identity away from me.

 

Trans Advocates Discuss Why They Are Attending GMT Advocacy Exchange in Nepal

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Posted By Lucile Scott, June 9, 2014

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A community gathering for Blue Diamond Society members

Seven advocates from three GMT Initiative grantee partners based in Thailand and South Africa are traveling to Nepal next week for an amfAR-sponsored advocacy exchange with The Blue Diamond Society (BDS), Nepal’s largest LGBT organization, and the Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities, Nepal (FSGMN). BDS and FSGMN spearheaded the advocacy efforts that resulted in a 2007 Supreme Court decision declaring self-determination, not a medical diagnosis or other criteria, as the sole determinant for a person’s legal gender identity. As part of implementing that decision, last year Nepal became one of the few countries in the world to officially offer a third gender option on its citizenship documents.

The advocacy exchange is part of the GMT Initiative’s Advocacy in Action program, which, with support from the Arcus Foundation, provides funding, technical support, and advocacy training to four trans-focused community organizations to help them build their capacity to improve health and human rights policies for trans individuals in their countries. The visiting activists from the Health and Opportunity Network (HON), the Thai Transgender Alliance (ThaiTGA), and Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA) will receive media and advocacy training from Nepali advocates and meet with members of the Nepali government to better understand all the steps and elements necessary to implement policies that recognize gender minorities. Below, three of the participating activists discuss trans rights in their countries and why they want to take part in the upcoming advocacy exchange.

Basu-portraitBasu Guragain, 28, Project Director of the Kathmandu Office of the Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities, Nepal (FSGMN)

“Nepal has made impressive gains in rights for trans individuals, and I am convinced that these advances must be shared with affected persons everywhere to advance the rights of LGBT. The groundbreaking progress in Nepal was largely due to the relentless advocacy of the Blue Diamond Society’s former director, Mr. Sunil Babu Pant, who enlisted the help and support of students, legislators, national and international organizations, LGBT communities and organizations, and concerned citizens who supported the change at great personal peril. 

The third-gender identity rulings are a monumental step forward in laying the groundwork for change, but have yet to have a substantial effect on the daily lives of trans persons in Nepal, who still face widespread and blatant discrimination in health, education, legal, and social services. But my determination to make self-identification easier for every member of gender minorities has only increased. As a gay man, it is also about my future, because the issues are very much the same for trans and gay people in Nepal and we are very much together as an LGBT movement.”

Kath portraitKath Khangpiboon, 27, Co-founder and Working Group Member of the Thai Transgender Alliance (ThaiTGA)

“Thai society expects all us trans people to be alike—funny, devoid of substance, obsessed with sex, an expert in sexual techniques, prone to lying, unable to have true love, perverted, and so on. If a trans person chooses to live her life in a way that differs from these societal prejudices, she will be heavily marginalized, or one might say, left at the edge of the margin and about to fall off the page—denied employment, impoverished, confused, devoid of rights, and without a way out.

ThaiTGA is a network that unites all transgender activists working to address the needs of the trans community in Thailand. But in addition to working together, it is very important for the community to work with other stakeholders to have effective policies and programs. I hope that through the amfAR program, I will get the opportunity to share the experiences I have gained through my work and to learn about working collaboratively with other stakeholders and partners on behalf of my community.”

Nthabza 1Nthabiseng Mokoena, 26, Advocacy Coordinator of Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA)

“South Africa is said to be the most progressive country on the continent in terms of LGBT rights. We have a very inclusive constitution that does not allow for discrimination on the basis of gender, sex, or sexual orientation, but the biggest obstacle is the lack of implementation of these laws by state bodies. Also, the law regarding trans people requires letters from two medical service providers to officially change your gender, but only three hospitals in the country offer full gender affirming services. At one of the hospitals, there is a 20-year-long waiting list for the services.

I am very gender non-conforming. People call me names and often threaten my partner because she is with me, and I do not feel safe in my own neighborhood. I am advocating for people that are going through the same challenges, because I envision an Africa where people will be free to express their gender without any fear of discrimination. I am privileged to be part of this exchange. Hopefully we will be able to implement strategies in South Africa similar to those used by BDS.”

Tebogo.JPGTebogo Nkona, 27, Founder and Director of Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA)

“I am a post op transman and I am passionate about trans and intersex rights. In South Africa, our laws claim to protect us, but in reality trans people do not have rights and have no place to go except to trans organizations. Issues of discrimination and injustice towards trans people affect me in a terrible way. Being discriminated against means you do not belong, you don't get recognition or equal opportunities, like you simply do not exist. So I find it to be my responsibility to make the trans voice heard and to be the fighter and frontline activist in my country. If I don’t fight for acceptance of my gender identity, who will? If I don’t demand equal rights, who will? It is about my future, my protection, and my health.

We are going to Nepal to learn from our colleagues how they managed to successfully influence their local policies and attitudes. It is a great opportunity for a young organization like ours, and we are looking forward to sharing our experiences and learning from our friends in Nepal.”

The GMT Advocacy Exchange Program Visits Argentina

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Posted by Ben Clapham, May 27, 2014

Last week, I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with my colleagues Elias and Nairobi from GMT Initiative grantee partner Comunidad de Trans y Travestis Trabajadoras Sexuales Dominicana (COTRAVETD) in the Dominican Republic for an advocacy exchange visit with the Federacion Argentina de Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales y Trans (FALGBT). Our advocacy exchanges are designed to allow newer GMT organizations to learn skills and strategies from organizations that have successfully advocated for greater health and human rights for LGBT.

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(From left to right) Nairobi Castillo, director of COTRAVETD; Marcela Romero, president of REDLACTRANS; and Esteban Paulin, president of FALGBT meet during the advocacy exchange.

FALGBT is a consortium of more than 60 LGBT organizations from across Argentina, and it was the catalyst for the passage of the bill that legalized same-sex marriages in Argentina in 2010, as well as for the groundbreaking 2012 Gender Identity Law that made it the first country in the world to allow people to change their name and sex on official documents without getting approval from a judge or doctor. “The Marriage Equality Bill had to be passed first, because Argentines can understand same-sex marriage. A law that promotes gender identity is very abstract and hard for people to grasp,” said Esteban Paulin, president of FALBGT, while discussing the coalition’s strategy.

In the Dominican Republic, on the other hand, trans individuals have very few health or human rights and little access to HIV care and other health services. “In my country, there are strong religious beliefs, and we are still a very macho society,” said Nairobi, the director of COTRAVETD, which is a trans-focused organization. “The road will be long to passing a law that will allow the sex on my passport to match the gender that I live, but I know together we will make it happen.”

What was most striking during our visit was the relative cohesion in Argentina between trans-focused groups and groups that primarily focus on gay or lesbian issues. In many countries, these organizations pursue their own separate advocacy agendas and do not have a coordinated response. “The important thing was unity. The trans community didn’t see or feel the necessity for marriage equality. We wanted and needed a law that recognized our gender identity,” said Marcela Romero, director of Asociación de Travestis, Transexuales, Transgéneros Argentinas (ATTTA), a GMT Initiative grantee partner that is part of FALGBT. “However, we understood that due to popular opinion, the marriage bill would need to come first, so we decided to support the gay and lesbian groups, knowing that after the marriage bill, they would support us for the gender identity bill.”

Two UNAIDS employees discuss the UN strategies that facilitated the passage of Argentina’s Marriage Equality and Gender Identity Bills with members of COTRAVETD and FALGBT. 
Two UNAIDS employees discuss the UN strategies that facilitated the passage of Argentina’s Marriage Equality and Gender Identity Bills with members of COTRAVETD and FALGBT.

The week spent in Buenos Aires equipped COTRAVETD with a foundation of ideas and advocacy and coalition-building strategies that can be adapted to the Dominican context.  “The LGBT coalition in the Dominican Republic needs to become better organized and to have the same goal agreed upon by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and the trans community before we can launch an appeal for legal change,” said Elias, the technical advisor for COTRAVETD.  It was also an inspiring visit, and during our final night together, over a delicious steak, Nairobi told Elias and me, “I, Nairobi, will not stop until we have the same protections for LGBT people in the Dominican Republic that they have here in Argentina!”

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia Is May 17

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Posted by Lucile Scott on May 16, 2014

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Silueta X will hold its Guayaquil Kiss-In at the Plaza San Francisco.

May 17 marks the 10th anniversary of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). IDAHOT was launched in 2004 to increase awareness about the violence and discrimination LGBT people face each day. To observe the day, LGBT groups and advocates worldwide organize events to oppose discrimination, garner media attention, network, and mobilize new constituencies. Each year the day’s scope and impact has grown, and last year events took place in nearly 120 countries around the globe. Below is what several GMT Initiative grantee partners will be up to on Saturday. Find a listing of events near you or get ideas for organizing an event of your own here.

  Asociación Silueta X in Guayaquil, Ecuador, is holding simultaneous public Kiss-Ins in Guayaquil and the city of Cuenca to raise awareness about homophobia and transphobia. “As Martin Luther King said, ‘Civil disobedience, not violence,’” says Silueta X founder Diane Rodriguez. “The Kiss-Ins are a peaceful reaction to the murders and violence in the LGBT community. One of our posters will say, ‘Bring Back our Murdered Trans Girls,’ and another will say, ‘A kiss to the mayors of Guayaquil and Cuenca, so they will approve our anti-discrimination bills.”

SEROvie in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has organized a day full of artistic events condemning homophobia and transphobia. The planned activities include plays, public speeches against gender-based violence, LGBT film screenings, and a concert. “For SEROvie, IDAHOT is a day of reflection and collective action against the exclusion of LGBT people, and a day to promote the recognition of our human rights with respect to our sexual orientation and gender identity,” says Steeve Laguerre, executive director of SEROvie.

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ThaiTGA’s IDAHOT conference will take place at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.

Men Against AIDS Youth Group (MAAYGO) in Kisumu, Kenya, is hosting a luncheon, in partnership with the NYAWEK LGBTI coalition, for local opinion leaders, including police, village elders, and community sub chiefs and chiefs. The attendees will discuss ways to combat the stigma and discrimination that LGBT face. “We decided to organize this meeting instead of a protest because, as activists, we thought addressing the critical issue that homophobia and transphobia are increasing in Kenya with key opinion leaders one on one could have more impact and create change in society,” says MAAYGO’s Henry Victor Digolo.

Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA) in Pretoria, South Africa helped organize an all-day community gathering on Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill that will include speakers, poets, and artists. “We cannot be truly free as a country when there are inequalities and violations against minority groups,” says Nthabiseng Mokoena, TIA’s advocacy coordinator. “Even though legislation in our country is progressive, we still live in a country where communities are not tolerant of gender diverse people, discrimination is still prevalent in health care facilities and transgender people still struggle to access employment and educational opportunities.”

The Thai Transgender Alliance (ThaiTGA) in Bangkok, Thailand, is hosting a conference titled Freedom of Expression to Gender Recognition on May 16 from 12:00 p.m. to 18:30 p.m. at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, with co-hosts the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, amfAR, and The Foundation for SOGI rights and Justice. The event will include remarks by Dr. Bhoodsadee Tamthai, deputy governor of Bangkok, and Poy Treechada, a famous trans celebrity. “Recently in Thailand, many trans women have been denied to access to nightclubs, bars, and restaurants, and to women's restrooms. In addition, there were a number of trans women rejected from employment due to stigma and prejudice towards trans identity,” says TGA’s Rena Janamnuaysook. “This event emphasizes the importance of the fundamental human rights of trans people in Thailand.”