God Knows Us. God Loves Us.

Life on the margins in L.G.B.T. Africa.

These days, our busy, digital lives leave us obsessed with what’s in front of us, and often ill equipped to reflect on what is larger than us. H.I.V. and AIDS advocacy forces us to think big: to consider the progress we have made — as a movement, and as a society — in a very short time.

Just a few decades ago, I saw people living with AIDS taken to hospitals in wheelbarrows because they could not walk. Today, science has made possible treatments that give people with H.I.V. the opportunity to live lives as long, full and healthy as their peers.

But for too many people around the world, those benefits are still out of reach. Even in places where treatment is available, the stigma that persists around H.I.V. — along with the shame imposed by homophobia — contributes to new infections and keeps people from seeking treatment even when they know they need it. Our work as advocates is to help end that hopeless feeling of invisibility.

Visibility, after all, is power. My organization, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, asked the photographer Robin Hammond to take his camera to countries like Kenya and Ghana, where homosexuality is illegal, and to Mozambique, where it is widely condemned, as part of his “ Where Love Is Illegal ” project. By depicting local advocates and by sharing their stories, these images and narratives show that those affected by this epidemic are not evil. In fact, they’re not really any different from anyone else.

As an artist, I know that a single photograph can tell a greater truth than a pile of statistics, and there is profound humanity in giving individuals at the margins the opportunity to step into the light. Robin’s images tell the story of struggle and survival, of resilience and empathy, of discrimination and the hard work and advocacy needed to overcome it. These images show us people who seek only to live honestly, openly, with dignity and without fear.

The good news is that in each of these places — and everywhere around the world — local activists, advocates and everyday heroes are working to build better, healthier and more inclusive societies. Their efforts, supported by grants from organizations like mine, are making a real difference.

In Kenya, L.G.B.T. people fleeing Uganda, Somalia and South Sudan arrived in the Kakuma refugee camp only to find that they faced poverty and prejudice there as well. With the help of a grant, however, they now have access to safe housing, food and H.I.V. testing and treatment at the camp. In fact, Kakuma just observed its first Pride celebration.

In Mozambique, H.I.V. is prevalent among gay men, but because of stigma, many don’t have access to care. New hope comes in the form of a program that will test thousands for H.I.V., as well as train L.G.B.T. people to test their peers confidentially and in their own homes. Confidential treatment means freedom — from the risk of having your H.I.V. status made public, from the burden of stigma in the community you’ve always called home.

These images do more than tell stories of progress; they remind us of our shared humanity, of our responsibilities to one another. When you look at these photographs, don’t do so for merely a split second, as though you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed. Take the time to see the great hope contained within them. These brave people living their lives openly and honestly are pioneering a future without stigma. All of us should follow their lead. — Elton John

See entire photo essay here

By Elton John
Source – The New York Times

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