amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

GMT Grantee Profile:
SOMOSGAY (Paraguay)

Increasing voluntary testing, counseling, treatment, and comprehensive care

Strategies

 

  • Running a community health center as a safe and friendly space
  • Providing counseling services, voluntary testing, and treatment of STIs
  • Producing educational materials and anti-discrimination campaigns

 

SOMOSGAY began as a partnership committed to promoting effective strategies against homophobia, improving HIV prevention, and protecting the rights of people affected by HIV in Paraguay. It has since become one of the few organizations in Latin America that promote holistic health services for MSM.

At the heart of their work is the only LGBT community center in Paraguay, along with a shelter for adolescents and young people who have been driven from their homes by homophobia and violence. The SOMOSGAY Center provides a range of social services—including counseling and testing for HIV—and houses the operating office for their advocacy work on public health policies and educational, cultural, and recreational programs. It also offers meeting space and serves as an incubator for grassroots groups that do not have to conduct their business locally. Since opening in October 2009, the Center has been visited by more than 400 people of all ages and from various parts of the country.

Paraguay Group Photo
A meeting at the SOMOSGAY Center

Though MSM account for one in three HIV diagnoses among men in Paraguay, the government does not have clear policies for HIV prevention and care for this vulnerable group. But through the Center and its website, SOMOSGAY supports several activities in collaboration with government to help protect the human rights of LGBT people, says Executive Director Simon Cazal. “We are pressing public health authorities to make changes in the planning and delivery of services to gay men and other MSM,” says Cazal, “but this task is very difficult because of the huge barriers of prejudice we face every day.”

SOMOSGAY’s campaigns against homophobia and discrimination have had a big impact in the community. The campaigns, titled ‘I'm happy, I'm gay’ and ‘I'm happy, my family loves me as I am,’ have been supported by parades for equality and music festivals, and have achieved significant visibility for the organization.

In addition to covering the cost of rent and medical supplies, support from amfAR helps SOMOSGAY produce informational and educational materials that they promote through their website, and at the Center and events. The SOMOSGAY website includes a Safe Sex Guide and a section dedicated to LGBT news in Paraguay.

“The actions we have conducted to promote sexual rights and HIV prevention, coupled with the Community Center, have been strengthened by the support of amfAR,” says Cazal. “When activists are motivated by health, the right to a better life for LGBT people, and the eradication of homophobia, that helps the LGBT movement's strength grow, and alters the history of exclusion and violence.”

In their own words

Simon Cazal is the Executive Director of SOMOSGAY. 


“When we started working for marriage equality in Paraguay, there was very little support. There was very extensive harassment, a lot of pressure, threats of death and violence, mostly to me, and even an attack on the organization.

Churches and religious groups had publicly called for violence against LGBT people to ‘defend the family.’ At first, we were very afraid. We were attacked on the street and were bullied in public spaces. But we were filled with courage and organized the first ‘Festival for Equality and Liberty’ to counter the messages of hate and discrimination. It was attended by many people and gave us great visibility.

This new visibility brought many new people to the organization and we received messages of thanks and support. One of the messages that touched me deeply was from a 16-year-old guy on the verge of suicide due to the harassment of his family and his classmates. One day he wrote a farewell letter to his family and planned to commit suicide that night, until he saw on the news the notice of one of our festivals in the afternoon…It was a live TV show, and he sent a message that I responded to on the air, and according to him, I saved his life because he discovered that one could be gay and live happy. After, he sent me the farewell letter with a message, telling me his story, and he ended the letter with a ‘Thank You.’ That made that all the sacrifices in pursuing the group ideals worthwhile.”