New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo (ch. 10 by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
(book review: Gay City News )
February 17, 2009 – PinkNews
Gay sex "fuelling" HIV infections in Asia warns UNAIDS and WHO
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned today that the HIV/AIDS epidemic may take a major turn for the worse in Asia unless countries urgently expand access to services to men who have sex with men (MSM). WHO said a review in December 2007 showed that in Cambodia and Vietnam, men who have sex with men are more likely to contract HIV compared to the general population. In China, the risk of infection by men who have sex with men is 45 times higher than for men in general.
Asia is believed to have the world’s largest number of men having sex with men, estimated at 10 million. WHO’s Regional Office for the Western Pacific, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, UNAIDS and the Hong Kong (China) Department of Health, to call for swift action to address the issue. They will meet with HIV/AIDS specialists from Asian governments, regional experts and representatives from non-governmental organisations from this week to consider strategies to deliver better services to MSM communities.
"Studies show that at present, the proportion of HIV infections being transmitted among men who have sex with men is larger and more significant than we had originally believed," said Dr Massimo Ghidinelli, WHO Regional Adviser in HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections. "Action needs to be taken now if a major increase in HIV/AIDS cases is to be averted. We need to target HIV prevention strategies, together with better access to health services, for men who have sex with men."
Strengthening surveillance and implementing effective interventions for HIV prevention and care among men having sex with men should be prioritised to prevent the further spread of the virus, WHO said. Enacting or enforcing legislation outlawing discrimination against people living with HIV and members of other vulnerable groups would enhance the effectiveness of the response to HIV.
A recent UNAIDS report showed that targeted prevention interventions are reaching only 1% of the MSM population. The report also showed that in most countries in Asia and the Pacific, national strategic plans for HIV/AIDS do not cover interventions for MSM and transgender individuals. Participating countries in the conference, which will take place in Hong Kong, are Australia, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Hong Kong (China), Japan, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
February 19, 2009 – KaiserNetwork.org
Asian Health Officials Warn That Without Intervention, HIV Cases Will Increase Among MSM in Region
Asian health officials on Wednesday at a World Health Organization conference in Hong Kong said that the region is facing a resurgence of HIV cases among men who have sex with men that will not subside without increased government efforts, the New Straits Times reports (Freeda, New Straits Times, 2/19). The conference was organized in partnership with Hong Kong’s Department of Health, the United Nations Development Program and UNAIDS and included about 50 government officials responsible for HIV/AIDS and MSM programs, as well as other experts.
According to officials at the conference, discriminatory laws, stigma, low condom use, multiple sex partners and limited health care access are contributing to the spread of HIV among MSM in the region (Chui, The Standard, 2/19). WHO regional adviser Massimo Ghidinelli said, "Studies show that at present, the proportion of HIV infections being transmitted among men who have sex with men is larger and more significant than we had originally believed" (New Straits Times, 2/19). Shivananda Khan, a representative with the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health, said, "We are facing an emerging catastrophe. Unless we intervene now, the level of infection over the next 20 years will double every year and the number of the (affected) MSM and transgender people will be more than any other population in this region." York Chow Yat-ngok, Hong Kong’s secretary for food and health, said that there has been a "rapid rise" of HIV cases among MSM and that HIV prevalence among this population is 10 times that of other high-risk groups, including sex workers and injection drug users. He added that a lack of knowledge and limited access to treatment also increases the risk of HIV among MSM. Director of Health Lam Ping Yan attributed the rise in HIV cases among MSM in part to the increased use of online dating services and psychotropic substances.
Edmund Settle, an HIV/AIDS policy specialist, said "Discriminatory laws, attitude and behavior are undermining effective programming and limiting access to health services," adding that they must be "challenged and revised" at the earliest opportunity (The Standard, 2/19). Ghidinelli said that improving surveillance and providing HIV prevention and care to MSM should be prioritized to help curb the spread of HIV/AIDS (New Straits Times, 2/19).
April 2009 – Pukaar
Asian countries urged to address HIV and AIDS in MSM
A sharp rise in HIV infections could be looming among men who have sex with men in Asia unless they are given better access to health services, says experts Widespread adherence to colonial laws against sodomy, along with political and social denial of homosexuality, mean that Asia has been caught unawares by a rapid rise in HIV/AIDS cases among men who have sex with men (MSM).
“We’re really in for big trouble. I think there is still time to do something but we’ve got to do it quickly”, Frits van Griensven, chief of behavioural research at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s regional office in Bangkok, told a meeting jointly held by WHO, UN Development Programme, and UNAIDS in Hong Kong last week to find ways to deal with the problem.
Their primary conclusion was that there is a “paucity of information and several knowledge gaps” due to lack of surveillance but the research that has been done indicates “widespread HIV transmission throughout the region where MSM and TG [trans gender] appear increasingly and disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic”.
May 20, 2009 – New America Media
The Triple Minority: Asian, Gay and HIV Positive
by Viji Sundaram, New America Media, News Report
San Francisco – When Jane and Alexander Nakatani lost their three sons – two to AIDS, and one to a bullet – they knew they had to shed their “Asian” inhibitions. They realized that they needed to educate people about how “delicate” the psyche of immigrant children is, and that parenting them should not be taken lightly. “Three months before Guy (their youngest son) died, he told me he was a triple minority,” an emotional Alexander Nakatani told a gathering at the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center (APIWC). “He was Asian, gay and HIV positive.”
Nakatani admitted that the struggles his sons faced were in large part because none of them turned out to be the son he and his wife wanted. Guy died in 1997 from complications stemming from AIDS, just four years after his older brother had died from the same disease. Guy was 27. The Nakatanis were honored by the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center for their efforts to transform their tragedy into hope, and to create public awareness about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in Asian American communities. The couple has embarked on a “mission” to share their story of tolerance, acceptance and healing.
Their story is told in the book and film, “Honor Thy Children,” which was screened at the center on Monday. “It’s not a story simply about our family, but a story about children who grew up stigmatized and marginalized,” said Nakatani, after the screening of the powerful 90-minute documentary, during which his wife sat crying quietly. “It’s about how delicate and fragile children are.”
The disappointment and anger Guy and his brother Glen faced after coming out to their parents is typical of many Asian families, noted Lance Toma, executive director of the APIWC in San Francisco. The stigma that they face in their families and their communities may be one of the reasons many gay Asian Americans don’t get tested for HIV, Toma said, noting that AIDS diagnosis among Asian and Pacific Islanders is one of the highest among all minority communities. And among those diagnosed, young men having sex with men are the most impacted.
“We knew this could happen,” he said. “We are not getting tested.” Honor Thy Children was made over the course of 12 years. It shows how the stern and emotionless older Nakatanis drove their two gay sons, Glen and Guy, into a cocoon of isolation by not accepting their sexual orientation. “Maybe you’re not gay, Guy. A lot of young people experiment,” Alexander awkwardly told the young teenager, when he announced he was gay. Unable to cope with his overbearing and unsympathetic parents, Glen left their California home when he was 15. Livid, Nakatani took down all the pictures of his first-born and declared, “I have no son.”
Later that night, Guy and his other brother, Greg, made a pact never to do anything to cause their parents pain. It was probably this pact that kept the once playful, charming and affable Guy from telling his parents that he was raped when he was 15 by a male acquaintance twice his age. When Guy reached adulthood, he dated women, confiding to one of them that he was gay. Meanwhile, after a short stint in the military, a very sick Glen returned to his parents’ home. He was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. He died shortly afterward, with his parents lovingly at his side.
Four years later, Guy, weakened by AIDS, which had robbed him of vision in one eye and kept him in a wheelchair, died surrounded by his friends and family. He had spent the last three years of his life going from school to school in the San Francisco Bay Area advocating against casual sex. Nakatani told the gathering Wednesday, "Know that there are those of us who cherish and love ‘diversity’ in its total and complete sense … and that there always will be voices that will speak for dignity, honor, acceptance and unconditional love for all children." May 19 marked the fifth annual National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
June 11, 2009 – Human Rights Watch
LGBT Rights Movement: Progress and Visibility Breed Backlash
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Rights Defenders Need Resources, Broader Support
(New York) – Activists working for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in many countries are still under-resourced, unnecessarily isolated, and vulnerable to violent backlash even after four decades of struggle, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The 44-page report, "Together, Apart: Organizing around Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Worldwide," demonstrates that many groups defending LGBT rights – especially throughout the global South – still have limited access to funding, and courageously face sometimes-murderous attacks without adequate support from a broader human rights community.
"Dozens of countries have repealed sodomy laws or enshrined equality measures, and that’s the good news as activists celebrate their successes during Gay Pride month," said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch and the principal author of the report. "But visibility breeds violence, and there is a pressing need for new support and protection."
The report is based on written surveys and in-depth interviews with more than 100 activists working for LGBT rights in five regions: sub-Saharan Africa; the Middle East and North Africa; Eastern Europe and Central Asia; the Asia and Pacific region; and Latin America and the Caribbean. In each region, the report outlines prevailing patterns of abuse and rights violations; the political and social challenges, and opportunities that activists see ahead; and key strategies these movements are using to achieve social change.
The report shows widely disparate rights situations in different regions. In Latin America, for instance, decades of coalition work between LGBT activists and other social movements – including women’s and mainstream human rights groups – have led to sweeping legal changes, with most sodomy laws in the region repealed and new anti-discrimination protections being debated. Yet repressive laws and pervasive violence based on gender identity and expression often remain unremedied. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, the report found, waves of backlash regularly greet the efforts of LGBT activists to make their voices heard, often silencing them with brutal violence. Extremist religious groups – some with support from kindred denominations in North America – actively promote prejudice and hatred.
Key findings of the report include:
* Organizations working on sexual orientation and gender identity still lack resources, as well as adequate support from other human rights movements. Increasing funding for these rights defenders, and building their political alliances, is crucial.
* Defenders of LGBT people’s rights, and of sexual rights in general, routinely face extraordinary levels of violence. In Jamaica, an angry crowd surrounded a church where a gay man’s funeral was being held and beat the mourners. In Kenya, one group told Human Rights Watch matter-of-factly that its members were "attacked by an angry mob who wanted to lynch them and they had to be evacuated under tight security."
* Sexuality has become a dangerous cultural and religious battleground. Increasingly, both politicians and conservative religious leaders manipulate issues of gender and sexuality to win influence or preserve power. They characterize LGBT people as alien to their communities, outsiders whose rights and lives do not matter.
* The need to change laws is still a central issue – but in many different contexts. More than 80 countries still have "sodomy laws" that criminalize consensual, adult same-sex sexual relations. Yet even in countries that have scrapped these provisions, laws on "public scandals," "indecency," "wearing the clothing of the opposite sex," and sex work are still in place, allowing widespread police harassment of transgender people and others. Enshrining equality for lesbian and gay people in South Africa’s constitution produced an example of global importance, for instance. Yet South Africa’s government is still not fully committed to equality at all levels, or capable of curtailing sexual violence.
The report also details creative strategies that activists have used to combat prejudice and promote equality. In India, activists have combined a legal challenge to the sodomy law with a wide-ranging public campaign to change public attitudes. In Brazil, transgender groups have fostered visibility and countered discrimination through simple monthly excursions to public spaces such as shopping malls or beaches. Activists told Human Rights Watch this helps trans people "feel strong in a group and face those spaces they believe are ‘off limits’ for them. And it is also meant to educate the public to see transgender people as citizens …with whom they can share a movie or a game and the beach."
This year is the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, the historic and galvanizing clashes between LGBT people and the police that many see as marking the beginning of the modern US gay rights movement. Yet the US still has fewer protections for LGBT people’s equality than countries such as Brazil or South Africa.
"As the United States prepares to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its own gay rights movement, this report points to lessons of struggles and successes in other countries that everyone can learn from," said Long. The research and publication of "Together, Apart" were supported by the generosity of the Arcus Foundation, a US-based philanthropic foundation whose mission embraces achieving social justice that is inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity, and race.
July 14, 2009 – Science Daily
Understanding The Process Of Homosexual Identity Formation Among Asian And Pacific Islander Youth
ScienceDaily – Young American-raised Asian and Pacific Islanders (API), who are in the sexual minority, face psychological and social stresses in dealing with their families’ values and ancestral cultures that significantly impact the development of their ethnic and sexual identities. API teens and young adults identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender face a different set of challenges than their western or Caucasian peers, which can lead to rejection from their families who emigrated to the U.S. and a stigmatization by the larger Asian community.
In a new study, Hyeouk Chris Hahm, Assistant Professor at the BU School of Social Work has developed a new intellectual framework for the development of positive ethnic/sexual identities among API gays and lesbian adolescents. The process of homosexual identify formation among API youth, where the role of family life, personal sacrifice for family tranquility and generational clashes are central social stresses, is in addition to the external factors as racism, sexism and acculturation, that many Asian Americans face. This combination of ethnic and gender differences has led the BU researchers to develop a new model of identity formation for this group which also serves to increase understanding of the diversity of the "new gay teenager."
Their study is based on Hahm’s earlier study, about 1,000 Asian American adolescents and young adults (18 to 27 years old), who said they were attracted to the same sex. This group struggled to both fit in with the prevailing American culture and also establish an authentic sexual identity that they knew was different from the norms of mainstream U.S. and their parents culture ( primarily from China, Japan and Korea).
"For instance, in South Korea, where male children have obligations to marry and create a traditional notion of family, homosexuality is considered a deviant behavior that brings family dishonor and shame," the study states, noting that this cultural barrier leaves this sexual minority with multiple oppressions and a sense of fear and inability to accept their sexual identity.
API women who are gay also face an Asian culture that requires them to stick to family values, marry men and have children or place shame on their families, neighbors and community. Researchers found that many Asian cultural norms render women invisible and silent. Thus these women compared to heterosexual API women and both heterosexual and homosexual API men had a higher prevalence of tobacco, binge drinking, marijuana and other drugs.
The reasons? The API women who were gay were less likely to adhere to traditional family-oriented gender roles, were unable or willing to gain or receive emotional support from their families and were likely to compete with men for masculine privileges so they could escape sexist oppression. Often, the result for both young men and women is to mask homosexual behaviors and avoid alienating their family and parents’ communities. In their relationships with others, they often have to decide which identity will take precedence: an ethnic or sexual identity.
"In the Western gay and lesbian community, ‘coming out,’ is final revelation that you are homosexual while for API in America of Korean descent, there is ‘coming home,’ where you want to integrate culturally and be both an American and Korean," said Professor Hahm. "This is not staying closeted but rather alluding to your sexuality to a family member, who may not challenge it, as long as the status quo within the family is maintained."
Over time, many manage the conflicts that arise from choosing one over the other and enter into a homosexual identity with many negative stereotypes and assumptions related to their ethnic identity. Still others sublimate their sexual identify and appear asexual until they are able to synthesize an identity that incorporates both ethnicity and sexuality.
The researchers developed an API sexual minority model that simultaneously explores sexual development and cultural identity development in four stages: initiation, primacy, conflict and identity synthesis. These are combined with the four strategies of acculturation – the process by which foreign-born individuals and their families learn to adopt the language, values, beliefs and behaviors of their new cultural environments. Those strategies are assimilation, integration, separation and marginalization. Together they set API sexual minorities apart from Western gays and lesbian community.
01 August 2009 – msmasia.org
MSM Country Snapshots released
From UNAIDS-RST P-A, Datahub and APCOM
MSM Country Snapshots for 15 countries have been developed as a collaborative product of UNAIDS Regional Support Team Asia-Pacific, the AIDS Datahub and APCOM. Each 1-page snapshot pulls together the latest epidemiological, behavioural response data available from the Datahub, with information from the Commission on AIDS in Asia Report, and included in some key sessions relating to MSM at ICAAP. A 1-page Regional Picutre snapshot is also attached to each MSM Country Snapshot.
Each Snapshot is designed to inform ICAAP delegates and others (particularly those who may have little or no knowledge of MSM) about the reality of MSM in-country, to ensure that they have some related facts and figures, and to help spurn interest in attending specific MSM-related sessions. The MSM Country Snapshots and the Regional Picture should not be regarded as “scientific" publications nor are they intended to be exhaustive in scope.
To see the MSM Country Snapshot for each of the 15 countries, please click on each country’s name here: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. The Regional Picutre is attached to each MSM Country Snapshot.
August 8, 2009 – Paul Causey, Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health 200
Latest data shows HIV infection among MSM in Asia Pacific poses alarming health crisis
Accelerating infection rates can only be reversed by government-led interventions, increased funding, scaled-up coverage and steps to end stigmatisation.
Bali, Indonesia – Soaring HIV infection rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender (TG) communities throughout Asia Pacific pose a looming health crisis that cannot be reversed until governments in the region close ranks and allocate the funding and resources necessary to scale up prevention interventions and end the stigmatization and criminalization of these at-risk target groups.
The latest epidemiological data, released today at a forum held by the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) in Bali, shows that epidemics in the region are accelerating, with estimated HIV prevalence rates in Bangkok above 30 percent, and hovering just below 30 percent in Yangon, Myanmar. One alarming trend is the high rate of infection among the youngest segments of the MSM and TG communities. A newly completed study in Thailand that followed 1,000 HIV-negative MSM for 3 years found that eventually 20 percent became HV infected with HIV. Among those between 18 and 22, the infection rate was a staggering 30 percent.
Frits Van Griensven, Chief, Behavioral Research, US CDC, said, “HIV has established itself in all Southeast Asian cities, with Bangkok and Yangon the most alarming. In Myanmar we are seeing the same pattern as in Bangkok, starting with the very young. New data shows that among the TG community in Jakarta the prevalence rate is 34 percent, which is extremely high – the highest in all of Asia. We have learned that when the prevalence rate is low in the beginning you still have time, but if you don’t have the resources, prevalence will grow and it will be very difficult to bring it down.”
“Almost everywhere in Asia and the Pacific, the MSM epidemic is going up, even if the overall HIV infection rate in some countries is declining,” Sarkar remarked. “Unless we address it immediately, it will produce a huge number of infections and will require huge amounts of resources. Over the last five years a cumulative $4 billion was spent by countries in the region, but MSM investment is less than $100 million.”
The failure of national governments to allocate resources to their MSM and TG communities constitutes nothing less than “a crime against humanity,” according to APCOM Chairperson Shivananda Khan, OBE. “MSM are beaten, criminalised, harassed, denied services and imprisoned. No wonder HIV is increasing so rapidly. It is not only about condoms. We cannot get medicine. We are not accepted as human beings. It is this discrimination that leads to high rates of HIV. Nearly 200 MSM and TG are infected every day across the Asia Pacific region – this number is shocking and shameful. The only way we can win this battle is if we work together and stand shoulder to shoulder to address the crisis so this genocide stops. We have the technology and the evidence to stop it, and enough is enough. What we are dealing with is a crisis in human lives.”
The all-day forum preceded the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific and offered an interactive platform for exchanging information. APCOM, a regional coalition of community-based organisations that includes the government sector and the United Nations system focusing on HIV and MSM, focused today’s forum squarely on this at-risk target.
Jeff O‘Malley, Global Director, UNDP, HIV/AIDS Group, remarked at the forum, “Diversity gives the community strength. So does adversity – the fights against sodomy laws, against the day-to-day discrimination and invisibility. These causes are important in and of themselves, but just as important, they forge new communities and a new generation of leaders. The development of new partnerships and leaders is essential to reducing the rate of HIV infection and continuing the struggle against HIV.”
Now in its second year, APCOM is a regional coalition of MSM and HIV community-based organizations, the government sector, donors, technical experts and the UN system. Its main purpose is to advocate for political support and increased investment in and coverage of HIV services in Asia Pacific. APCOM promotes principles of good practice and lessons learnt by bringing together representatives from diverse groups in an effort to share experience, knowledge and expertise. Additional information is available here.
HIV Among Men Who Have Sex With Men Ignites Volatile Cross-Cultural and Economic Issues
Bali – The risk behaviours among MSM and TG in Asia Pacific combined with the unique social, cultural and economic pressures that influence them create cross-cutting issues that must be taken into account by those seeking to support, educate and advocate for these often neglected communities.
This was the topic of today’s satellite forum held by APCOM as part of the -9th International Congress on AIDS and the Asia Pacific (9 ICAAP). An overflow crowd of more than 200 Congress attendees filled every corer of the room on August 10 to hear experts on specific Asia Pacific geographies discuss the unique challenges they face, and the creative solutions they are applying to reach MSM at risk in cultural environments that make such outreach especially complex.
“The vast majority of MSM is Southeast Asia are married or will be married, whether they want to be or not,” said Shale Ahmed of the Bandhu Social Welfare Society, Dhaka, Bangladesh. “”In China, more than 70 percent of the MSM are in partnership with a woman. Throughout the region, MSM face pressures of fatherhood, lineage, and religion, and many of them unknowingly infect their sex partners in other groups, such as female sex workers and their own wives.”
In addition, a large number of MSM in the region who are sex workers face a double stigma, exacerbated by low access to condoms, drug and alcohol abuse, low levels of education, a high level of mobility and dealing with harassment and violence.
Difficult issues such as these, that demand a high level of cultural wisdom and sensitivity, made the APCOM satellite forum one of the highlights at the opening day of 9 ICAAP. Philippe Girault gave a passionate account of the role drug abuse plays in the lives of the region’s MSM and TG communities and how the use of drugs during sex is rising rapidly in Asia Pacific countries. While ecstasy remains the drug of choice, a wide variety of substances are being abused for a variety of purposes – increased energy and productivity, stress relief, weight loss, self-esteem, prolonged sexual intercourse, etc.
Solutions that are helping curb and contain the crisis, which greatly increases the likelihood of HIV infection, include a “buddy system” at events where MSM and TG are likely to use drugs, making condoms and lubricant more easily available, specialized risk reduction counseling and making creative use of existing networks to help educate those at highest risk and help them understand they are not alone.
Robert Sutherland (ACON, Sydney) explored one of the most difficult of all challenges, reaching young MSM who are HIV-positive and often overwhelmed by the multiple stigmas they face. These individuals can be sexually active for many years, posing a risk of further infection to their sex partners. “These people must be given support,” Sutherland said. “Young MSM must be reached before they become sexually active so they understand the risks involved. They must be given STI information presented in a broad framework that takes into account issues of family, drug use and culture.” An important tool for doing this, he said, was the use of peer-based education – using young MSM to educate others. He also said it was essential to reach young MSM with the tools they use to communicate with one another, especially the Internet.
“Today’s forum on cross-cutting issues was a great example of APCOM living up to its mission to bring together communities across the region to share information and innovative thinking that leads to positive change for Asia Pacific’s MSM and TG communities,” said APCOM Chairperson Shivananda Khan, OBE.
Now in its second year, APCOM is a regional coalition of MSM and HIV community-based organizations, the government sector, donors, technical experts and the UN system. Its main purpose is to advocate for political support and increased investment in and coverage of HIV services in Asia Pacific. APCOM promotes principles of good practice and lessons learnt by bringing together representatives from diverse groups in an effort to share experience, knowledge and expertise. Additional information is available here.
August 24, 2009 – Time
Why Asia’s Gays are Starting to Win Acceptance
by Jyoti Thottam / Kathmandu
Sunil Babu Pant is a schoolteacher’s son who grew up in the rough green mountains of central Nepal. The youngest of six children, indulged by his family, Pant remembers feeling attracted to other boys. But he wore that knowledge lightly, with the innocence of a sheltered child. Boys and girls played separately; Pant thought that his friends must feel just as he did. "It didn’t appear as a problem to me growing up in the countryside," he says. "Even though I knew about myself, I couldn’t define it."
By 28, Pant had a word for what he felt, and in 2000 he moved to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, to find other gay people and some sense of belonging. What he discovered horrified him. After dark, a small underground subculture of gay men and women would meet each other in a few of the city’s parks and ancient courtyards, gatherings that took place under a constant threat of violence by the police. A law against "unnatural sexual conduct" was often used as a pretext for harassment, he says. "It was such an unseen, unspoken tragedy that was going on every day." (See pictures of the gay rights movement.)
Pant could have chosen to live as other gays do in Asia’s conservative societies, hiding his sexuality behind a sham marriage while leading a dangerous double life. Instead, he decided to come out and to work against discrimination. "There was a choice to make," he says, "whether you feel threatened and live your life with misery, or you live with courage." In 2001, Pant and a few friends organized the Blue Diamond Society — named after the Diamond Sutra, a well-known translation of Buddhist teachings emphasizing compassion — to distribute information about HIV. The group later began documenting human-rights abuses against gay people, and its members sued to overturn Nepal’s law criminalizing homosexuality. In December 2007, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled in their favor. Four months later, Pant, who was the main petitioner in the case, became South Asia’s first openly gay member of parliament. By the end of 2008, the Supreme Court issued its full judgment, which not only nullified the old law but also established a "third gender" category for government documents. A newly formed government advisory committee is studying the possibility of legalizing gay marriage. In less than a decade, Nepal, a poor and devout Hindu kingdom, had become what the Indian writer and gay activist C.K. Meena calls "a gaytopia."
Rights and Recognition Nepal’s transformation could only have happened in the first decade of the 21st century — and similar changes are taking place elsewhere in Asia as sweeping economic and social forces erode long-held prejudices. In India, the Delhi High Court recently struck down as unconstitutional a 149-year-old law criminalizing homosexuality, in a judgment so eloquent in its support of gay people’s right to dignity that some wept in the courtroom as the last pages were read. In China this summer, Beijing and Shanghai hosted gay and lesbian festivals with little official interference — an achievement in a country where mass gatherings of any kind are tightly controlled. Tolerance isn’t measured by any official statistic, but it’s there in many forms — gay characters on television and in films, openly gay celebrities and gay public gatherings. Manila held Asia’s first gay-pride parade in 1994; this year there were similar festivals in a dozen other Asian cities. "If nothing else, people aren’t denying the existence of homosexuality anymore," says Jeffrey O’Malley, the director of the HIV group for the United Nations Development Program in New York City. "That’s a huge difference from 20 years ago."
The rising visibility of gay people in the region is just one of many social changes that have been accelerated by travel, urbanization, education, democratization and, most of all, the explosion of information across every imaginable medium. This isn’t simply Westernization — the old argument that homosexuality is yet another crass cultural import from the West has been all but discarded. But the Asian social institutions and beliefs that often stood in the way of tolerance — religious conservatism, intense emphasis on marriage and having children, cultural taboos against openly discussing sexuality — are weakening. In some parts of Asia, space is opening up for homosexuals in society. "The debate about sexuality is in the realm of the constitution, of democracy, equality and human rights," says Gautam Bhan, a gay activist in New Delhi. "The terrain of the debate has shifted."
The Road Less Traveled Pant’s journey from rural Nepal to Kathmandu’s parliament — with detours through a college campus in Belarus and the nightclubs of Tokyo — reveals how one gay man and his community came to terms. By leaving Nepal as a young college graduate, he experienced for the first time both homophobia and acceptance. In 1992, he went to Belarusian State Polytechnic Academy in Minsk to get his master’s degree in computer science. The newly independent country, which had been part of the Soviet Union, welcomed students from the developing world, but he arrived at a time of growing hostility toward homosexuals — a banner at the college’s medical clinic warned "Beware of Gays." He spent five years hiding who he was. "I understood that my sexuality could be a problem to the authorities and I could be deported," he says.
After completing his degree, Pant decided to take a trip to Japan as a volunteer for an environmental group. In Tokyo, what was originally scheduled to be a two-week sojourn stretched to three months as he immersed himself in one of Asia’s most established gay subcultures. Homosexuality has a long history in Japan, with allusions to it documented as far back as the 11th century Tale of Genji. Attitudes changed with the growing influence of Christianity in the 1800s, but since the 1880s Japan has not had laws punishing homosexuality like those passed throughout the British colonies during the same period.
This quiet tolerance doesn’t include legal rights or full social acceptance, but it does allow Japanese gays and lesbians a limited freedom. Tokyo has long had its own Chelsea in Shinjuku 2-chome, a neighborhood full of shops, nightclubs and bookstores catering to gay people. That’s where Pant read about the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village, an uprising against police harassment that many consider the beginning of the gay-rights movement. In Tokyo, Pant also discovered ancient Hindu texts celebrating same-sex love. When he returned to Nepal, he used this knowledge to explain to his parents that homosexuality was part of Hinduism’s old traditions. This made coming out to them easier. "They had some questions," he says. "But when you talk about culture, about religion, it’s not something foreign, somebody telling you something from outside."
His mother’s worst fear, Pant says, was that he would be a victim of violence. "She was terrified," he recalls. After the Supreme Court ruling in 2007, such incidents are rare, although his parents still get upset when his political opponents make derogatory comments. Those are among the few intrusions into his otherwise ascetic life. His longtime partner recently moved to Bangkok, so he lives with his parents and grandmother in Kathmandu, spends time with his nieces and nephews, and visits his village regularly.
In Nepal, as in the rest of the world, the fight for gay rights is closely linked to the fight against HIV and AIDS. The deadly virus was initially tagged as a "gay disease" in the West, and its early victims struggled against a blatant and sometimes violent backlash. In Asia, homophobia took a different form: denial. For years, authorities asserted that HIV couldn’t be a problem because homosexuality simply didn’t exist. But by the late 1990s, it was obvious that HIV/AIDS posed a serious public-health threat that would only get worse if ignorance remained official policy. It’s no coincidence that Pant’s Blue Diamond Society initially worked on AIDS issues. Because of a global effort by public-health authorities and governments to raise HIV/AIDS awareness, "it was where we could get funding," Pant says. (Read "Closet Case: How Intolerance Fuels Africa’s AIDS Crisis.")
This support gave him a platform to organize the local gay community — as it did for pioneers in the gay-rights movement in other countries. Anjali Gopalan, an activist in New Delhi, was there at the beginning of HIV/AIDS-awareness efforts. Trained in political science and international development, she moved to New York City in 1985 at the height of the AIDS epidemic and was involved in some of the first attempts to bring information about the disease to immigrants and the poor.
The experience proved to be a personal awakening. "It makes you learn a lot about your own culture," she says from a brightly painted office in south New Delhi, "to understand discrimination, to understand equality, to learn how to respect differences." After Gopalan returned to India in 1994 to be closer to her aging parents, she started the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, one of the country’s first HIV/AIDS groups. Well before India’s economic boom or the push to decriminalize gay sex, the movement helped to introduce issues concerning sexual orientation and sexuality into India’s public discourse. "The government itself was funding programs for men who have sex with men," she says.
Read "The Battle Over Gay Marriage."
Despite this tacit backing, activists worked in a legal gray area. Section 377 of the Indian penal code, a law passed by the British colonial administration in 1860, criminalized sodomy and was still in effect, leaving gays vulnerable to the whims of local law enforcement. Police in Lucknow, a city in north India, arrested four HIV outreach workers in 2001 under Section 377 on charges including "conspiring to commit sodomy." The incident was alarming — but ultimately it served as the catalyst for a historic gay-rights ruling. The Naz Foundation filed a public-interest lawsuit on the arrested activists’ behalf and after eight years of litigation, the Delhi High Court ruled on July 2 that Section 377 violated India’s constitutional principles of equality and inclusivity. It was an emotional moment, particularly for those who grew up in more conservative times. "In those days, you just kept quiet about your sexuality," says Gautam Bhan, a New Delhi urban planner and activist. He lived in the U.S. for years, watching from abroad as India slowly changed, and went back in 2004 once he decided he could live in India as an openly gay man. "I still can’t believe that 377 no longer holds," he says. "My landlord sent me a note, people in my office clapped when I entered the next day. There was this sense all around that it was obvious, it was good, it was right, it was a symbol of change."
Blending In Even in authoritarian and deeply religious countries, gay people are finding ways to gather and meet each other, the first step in mobilizing for their rights. In Pakistan, where homosexuality is considered a crime by both the state and Islam, an underground social scene thrives among the élite, particularly in Karachi and Lahore. Inspired by activism in India, two women in Lahore earlier this year founded Pakistan’s first gay-rights organization, whose members meet privately in affluent homes. China’s authorities decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, but it is only in the last few years that gay culture has started to flourish. "The speed of change in China has been amazing," says a 37-year-old employee of a Beijing Internet company. It remains difficult to be openly gay in the workplace, says the man, who requested anonymity. But in social settings, the environment has improved dramatically, especially for young people, he says. "Some of them don’t even think it’s an issue." Still, there are limits. The Beijing Queer Film Festival has been held four times since 2001, and this year marked the first time that the event went off without any official interference. But Cui Zi’en, one of the organizers, said they "kept a deliberately low profile" this year by moving the festival to an outlying neighborhood. (Watch TIME’s video "Gay Marriage in the Heartland.")
To further their cause, gay activists in Asia have had to adapt, as Cui did. They can’t just borrow strategies honed during the U.S. civil rights movement as others have done — in countries where democracy is still a work in progress, they have to invent new ones. Instead of confrontational tactics, they work hand in hand with other activists. Pradeep Khadka, human-rights coordinator for the Blue Diamond Society, says that rather than challenging Nepalese society, his group has built alliances within the democracy movement and tried to change attitudes and policies through political persuasion. Even the language of the movement is different. Instead of gay liberation or gay pride, Khadka promotes "sexual diversity" and the protection of "sexual minorities" along with the poor, women and lower castes. "We are not very aggressive," Khadka says. "It’s a very soft way of approach." He admires the pioneers of the U.S. and Europe, but doesn’t consider them models. "The generation has changed from the Stonewall movement."
This might be a soft revolution, but it is a revolution all the same. Some 200 openly gay, lesbian and transgender Nepalis gathered recently in a hotel conference room to draft sample legislation protecting their rights. Pant was there, hovering in the background, but the crowd was more interested in getting answers from the two straight politicians who were attending to hear their complaints about support for gay students and delays in getting passports marked "third gender." Nepal’s example is powerful enough that donors from Norway and Sweden want to help them replicate it elsewhere. That effort will begin on Aug. 18 with a meeting in Kathmandu of gay activists from all over South Asia. It’s hard to say what the gay world in Asia will look like a decade from now, but in a valley in the shadow of the Himalayas, it is finding its next incarnation.
— with reporting by Jessie Jiang / Beijing, Coco Masters / Tokyo, Madhur Singh / New Delhi and Omar Waraich / Lahore
October 2009 – NFI
APCOM’s engagement at the 9th ICAAP
The Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health, with which NFI plays a key role, was strongly engaged at the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, held in Bali, Indonesia between the 9th – 13th August, 2009.
Highly concentrated and severe HIV epidemics among men who have sex with men (MSM) in urban areas across the Asia Pacifi c region are already well documented. Yet investments in HIV programming for MSM and transgender remain limited, representing less that 4% of the total spending for HIV programming in countries in the region.
Not only are there totally inadequate responses to HIV among MSM and transgenders and gross under-investments of resources, but prevention and care programme service coverage is also extremely poor. It has been estimated that targeted prevention programmes are reaching less that 8% of MSM, far short of the 80% coverage that epidemiological models indicate is needed to turn the HIV epidemic around in that population.
Read the article here
28 October 2009 – Fridae
The testing imperative: How increased HIV testing can help slow down HIV transmission
by Jan Wijngaarden
In a city where 1 in 20 (Singapore, Beijing, Ho Chi Minh), 1 in 12 (Hanoi), 1 in 10 (Phnom Penh), 1 in 5 (Chiang Mai) or 1 in 3 (Yangon, Bangkok) gay men are infected with HIV, it is important to stop ignoring HIV as ‘a problem affecting others.’
A lot of gay guys make quick (and often irrational and incorrect) assumptions about their partner’s HIV sero-status in the heat of the moment. "Oh, look, he lets me fuck him, he does not say anything about condoms, he is probably positive, just like me", thinks the horny top. The horny bottom thinks: "Oh, look, he does not grab condoms or lube, he is probably negative, like me, otherwise he would not be this irresponsible."
A few minutes later, in a dark corner of the sauna, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus has found new lebensraum. Bingo! In a city where 1 in 20 (Singapore, Beijing, Ho Chi Minh), 1 in 12 (Hanoi), 1 in 10 (Phnom Penh), 1 in 5 (Chiang Mai) or 1 in 3 (Yangon, Bangkok) gay men are infected with HIV, it is important to ditch such assumptions. It is important to stop ignoring HIV as ‘a problem affecting others’.
Everybody who has ever had anal sex without a condom, or has had any form of condom slippage or breakage ‘accident’ with somebody else of whom we don’t know his HIV status has, in principle, a chance to be infected. Yes, that means YOU. Yes, it means ME. It means all of us.
One of my friends, who is a sauna and sex-party-enthusiast, sometimes gets so drunk and high on drugs that he does not really remember what happened exactly during his long passionate nights of action. When I ask him whether he has considered getting tested for HIV, he replied: "Why should I get tested? What is the point? If I am infected, I am probably infected already anyway. I will find out sooner rather than later. I prefer later, so that I can lead a normal life up until then."
Hmmm. A normal life… Meaning, in his case, that he does not need to feel guilty about having sex without condoms, as he "officially" is not aware that he might be infecting others. He reasons that if you know your status and you are HIV positive – well – it becomes much harder to justify ditching condoms, as he would feel guilty about infecting others. Another friend of mine who found out he was positive at the age of 19 refused to have any sex for nearly a year, for fear of infecting his lovers. He was depressed and could not sleep for months; any little itch or tiny cough triggered panic and alarm. Meanwhile, he kept his infection a secret from his family and most friends, leading a double life.
So why should you get tested for HIV? Why would you want to know you have a deadly disease and destroy your love life? Why face possible discrimination and stigma from friends, family and at work? Why not rather just ‘let it be’? In fact, there are several good reasons to get tested. I list a few of them below.
The first reason is perhaps partly a philosophical reason. I believe it is our duty, as the only animals on the planet who have brains that are able to reason, to get to know ourselves. Knowing ourselves and developing our personalities, talents and skills, and plan our lives based on what we learn is part of what makes life worth living. Taking stock of our lives, and taking RESPONSIBILITY for what we have done, is part of our value as human beings. Ignoring the possibility we might have HIV, which can, if untreated, be an important threat to our personal existence is, well, for lack of a more diplomatic term, rather stupid. It is also selfish versus others whom we may unwittingly infect.
The second reason is biological / medical. If we are infected with HIV, our immune system is gradually destroyed. This takes, depending on each individual, between one and 20 years; fifty percent dies within 10 years. Unless we start treatment with antiretroviral medicines. These used to be terribly expensive and full of side effects, but are now quite affordable and less toxic. One used to take 6-8 pills a day in the past, but now many have been combined in convenient once- or twice-a-day doses. These pills used to have nasty side-effects, but these have decreased too, for most people at least.
Studies have shown that the earlier we find out that we have HIV and the timelier we start treatment of HIV with antiretroviral medicines, the more likely it is that our immune system will recover and the less likely it is that we will experience some of the nastier manifestations of AIDS later in life – in short, the sooner you find out, the more likely it is that you can start treatment at the right moment and live a long and healthy life.
09 March 2010 – World Aids Campaign
Asia Catalyst: Asian AIDS Law Database Launches Online
Gejiu, China – Asia Catalyst is proud to announce the “public beta” launch of its Asian AIDS Law Database. The database is a free, user-friendly resource, searchable in Chinese and English, to help researchers to find HIV/AIDS-related statutes throughout Asia. It is the first database exclusively dedicated to this purpose. With the “public beta” launch, Asia Catalyst invites lawyers, experts and organizations to share AIDS-related laws and policies from around Asia that may not yet be online. The database has over 100 records, ranging from Cambodia’s draft law on drug control to the national policy on HIV/AIDS of Bangladesh.
“The database will enable lawyers to analyze AIDS-related laws, and use them in their own advocacy,” said Ken Oh, editor of Asia Report, the news site that hosts the database. “Asian AIDS activists tell us that some governments are more responsive to model language from another Asian law.” The project was born in response to growing demand from Asian AIDS advocates engaged in legal analysis and advocacy. The database was created by a volunteer team of law students and pro bono lawyers working with Asia Catalyst.
Asia Report, the Asia Catalyst-sponsored site that hosts the database, provides Chinese and English-language news about economic and social rights in North, South and Southeast Asia, with links to Asian rights groups, and announcements of upcoming conferences and events. Asian AIDS Law Database users may choose countries, topics and levels of government from drop-down menus in both English and Chinese. The database will provide the text of the law or policy and a link to its location online. All records are in English, with Chinese translations provided where available.
“The international AIDS law field is growing quickly,” said Ken Oh.“We hope our colleagues in Asia will use the database to analyze existing laws – and draft new ones.” The database may be visited at. Asia Catalyst is a US-based resource for grassroots organizations working on HIV/AIDS in Asia. For more information, please see our website.
May 2010 – Arrow.org
Transgender People’s Access to Sexual Health and Rights
A Study of Law and Policy in 12 Asian Countries
Why This Study?
“Sexuality is a critical and strategic frontier in which the possibilities of justice, democracy and secularism are at play.” The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, conducted with a spirit of inclusion, cooperation and consensus, fostered hope for State initiated policies and programs based on human rights, gender equity, reproductive health and rights, and partnership with civil society (Germain and Kyte, 1995). As we near completion of fifteen years since the Conference, it is critical to reflect on progress made globally in the areas of population, development, sexual and reproductive health rights, and gender equality. Towards this, ARROW (Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women), a women’s organisation working on women’s health and rights, has undertaken a project every five years to monitor progress in these areas. This study is part of ARROW’s ICPD@15 years monitoring project which includes 12 Asian countries – Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia.
This study was commissioned to examine and report on issues related to sexuality in the 12 Asian countries. This is significant because feminist theory and activism has not always examined or understood the links between gender and sexuality, and how these influence experiences of injustice and achievement of rights. Sexuality is recognised, variably, in sections of civil society, United Nations’institutions, donor agencies and governments to be a central aspect of personhood which affects all individuals, families, communities and societies. Also recognised are the links with health, reproductive health and rights, livelihood, poverty, survival and life and these are demonstrated by social movements focusing on abortion, HIV and AIDS, LGBTI, sexual violence, genital mutilation and other issues. Thus, while the ICPD PoA falls short of addressing the multiple aspects of sexuality, it is valuable in that it recognises the centrality of sexuality in women’s rights and adolescent needs, includes within the definition of reproductive health a satisfying and safe sex life, and calls for accessible sexual health care and sexuality education for all.
In the past few decades, sexuality has increasingly been established as an integral aspect of personhood. Therefore, States, being responsible for facilitating realisation of one’s fullest potential, should ensure that people are able to freely develop and express their sexuality. However, what we find prevailing is a continued regulation of sexuality and all related matters, by societies and governments using instruments such as education, religion, law and policy, seeking to enforce a sexual discipline that emerges from a hetero-normativei framework that favours the heterosexual male. Such regulation of sexuality, more often than not, impacts sexual and reproductive rights of people, some groups of people more so than others. For example, adolescents and young people, the elderly, women – especially single women, sex workers, and people marginalised on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people) – are disproportionately affected. They experience social and/or systemic exclusion, various forms of violence including stigma, discrimination, physical and sexual violence, or criminalisation.
24 May 2010 – Fridae
19 of 48 countries in the Asia Pacific region criminalise male-to-male sex
by Laurindo Garcia
Nineteen of 48 countries in the Asia Pacific region criminalise male-to-male sex which contributes to over 90 percent of gay and bisexual men in the region being denied access to HIV prevention and care services. Fridae’s Laurindo Garcia reports. On May 17 a panel of high-ranking judges, lawmakers, researchers and community activists gathered at the University of Hong Kong to discuss legal reform and how active participation from the community can help reverse an alarming trend where more than 90 percent of men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Asia-Pacific region do not have access to HIV prevention and care services.
This warning was highlighted during a high-level dialogue entitled “Punitive laws, human rights and HIV prevention among men who have sex with men in Asia Pacific” organised by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in association with the Asia-Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (ACPOM) and the Center for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) at the Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong.
Research conducted by UNDP and APCOM over the last 12 months investigated the affect that legislation, the judiciary and law enforcement has on responses to the HIV epidemic across the Asia-Pacific region. While the final report is to be tabled later this year, preliminary findings were released to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO). John Godwin, a consultant to the UNDP, elaborated on data which demonstrates the precarious position of the Asia-Pacific’s HIV response. In its report, the UNDP believes the already critical situation is “likely to get worse” if countries fail to act.
Nineteen out of 48 countries across the Asia-Pacific region criminalise consensual male-to-male sex. [*Male-to-male sex is illegal in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Naura and Palau. Sex between adult males was decriminalised in India’s National Capital Territory but Supreme Court proceedings are still pending and the application to other jurisdictions has not been determined.] Of these 19 countries, 16 are former British territories where anti-sodomy laws were introduced during colonisation. Despite the ascension to independence by all 16 countries, this remnant of colonialism remains in their penal codes.
Godwin described the disconnect that exists between national AIDS policies and legal frameworks in many countries. He cited how legislation often runs counter-productive to HIV prevention strategies implemented by health officials. This legal gridlock was compounded in some cases where selective enforcement of public order and prostitution laws hamper fundamental outreach activities such as safer sex campaigns and condom distribution.
“Why do people hate homosexuals?”
In an attempt to unravel the reasons behind the disconnect between public health policy and legislation, the Honourable Michael Kirby, former High Court Judge of Australia, posed the question to the audience point-blank: “Why do people hate homosexuals?”
Kirby’s analysis of this subject revealed how the human element has often been at odds with science. Evidence-based, scientific research is the cornerstone of any public health policy. In contrast, Kirby recounted with dismay the number of instances through history where proposed legal reforms, designed to support health policy, had been put down due to talk of “Sodom and Gomorra” and other religious metaphors entering public debates. Kirby noted, however, that there is progress on the legal front coming from recent court decisions in India, Pakistan and the Philippines on issues of sexual orientation or gender identity. However more work and leadership, by the likes of countries like Hong Kong – who repealed their anti-sodomy laws in 1991 – is required.
Landmark decision by the Delhi High Court
The Chief Justice who presided over the court in Delhi, India was on hand to describe the turn of events that led to a landmark decision in July 2009. The Honourable Ajit Prakash Shah, explained the social impact of his ruling that Section 377 of India’s Penal Code was discriminatory and “a violation of fundamental rights”. He said the case began a “national conversation” with LGBT issues now firmly “out of the closet”, a scenario he described necessary and beneficial.
24 May 2010 – Fridae
Fridae’s LGBT People to Watch 2010: Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil
by Fridae Features Team
The series presents 10 movers and shakers in Asia who are set to bring about positive change in their local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. This week we put the spotlight on gay and AIDS activist Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the 39th direct descendant in the 651-year dynasty of Rajpipla and the first Indian royal to come out as gay; and Bhumika Shrestha, who at only 23 was officially sworn in as a member of the Nepali Congress making her the first representative of the transgender community in Nepal’s ruling political coalition.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but we are sure that this handful of extraordinary individuals will encourage and inspire you. If you know of anyone who you think is doing an amazing job for the greater good – whether they be activists or artists, entrepreneurs or entertainers, send us their details at.
In 2006 the 39th direct descendant in the 651-year dynasty of Rajpipla, a former princely state which now part of Gujarat in Western India, made headlines when his coming out story spread like wildfire across India’s and the world’s mediacape. The Prince’s story was a beacon of light to the Indian LGBT community yearning for positive role model. However universal acceptance was not won overnight. Despite his blueblood status, Gohil suffered a backlash. His parents publically disowned him and segments of traditional society burnt effigies of the Prince, demanding that he be stripped of his title.
Since then, time has healed many of the wounds. There has been some reconciliation in the royal household and the Prince – the only openly gay royal in the world – has earned the respect from various sectors of the community, a trend that was accelerated after he established the Lakshya Foundation which strives towards greater awareness and HIV/AIDS prevention among sexual minorities. Gohil won the UNAIDS Civil Society Award for his work and has been made the India regional representative for the Asia-Pacific Coalition of Male Sexual Health (APCOM). His extraordinary story brought him to The Oprah Winfrey Show and Gohil was also the subject of a BBC Reality TV show The Undercover Princes about finding love in Brighton’s gay bars.
In December 2009, Gohil went on an official fact-finding mission to Australia in hopes of gathering knowledge on best practise in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He also used this trip to raise awareness of fight against laws that criminalise homosexuality struck down in India and across the Asia-Pacific region.
Against the backdrop of slow, but significant progress in India’s campaign to repeal the anti-gay Section 377 of the Penal Code over the past 12 months, the advent of Bollywood’s first film to feature a gay kiss and the recent death of a prominent Indian University academic under “mysterious circumstances”, Gohil remains as an enlightening figurehead for the Indian pink community. And with plans for the opening of an old age home for gay men and lesbians as well as a biographical film about the 44-year-old Prince’s life due for release he is sure to continue to inspire and impress.
æ: Why do you do this work?
I think in country like ours the requirement to raise awareness about HIV-AIDS is very high. Given the total population, we still need more and more people to work on the same goals.
æ: How do you think you can make positive change happen in 2010?
I think constant talking to media and raising awareness about homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenders and the work I do with my foundation is what I can positively do the best.
æ: What is your message to people who stand in your way?
I don’t think people are standing in my way, I haven’t done anything personally against them. What they are against is the acceptance of sexual variety because they see it as morally reprehensible and corrosive to traditions and culture.
The only message I have to them is that ignorance will never help them come out of the irrationally hate they have filled their lives with about homosexuality. I don’t entirely blame them, I blame their ignorance.
Prince Mavendra Singh Gohil can be contacted via the Lakshya Foundation at www.lakshyafoundation.org
With contributions from Laurindo Garcia, Patty Tumang and Sylvia Tan.
June 21, 2010 – Science Speaks
Lessons from South Asia
by Rabita Aziz
A theater troupe performing plays about men who have sex with men. A group of injecting drug users in Bangladesh drawing attention to their plight with red mannequins. And a beauty pageant in Nepal –with only transgendered contestants. In South Asia, a number of different initiatives are now under way in attempting to reduce stigma around HIV/AIDS. At a panel last week at the Global Health Council annual conference, representatives from the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women presented results from their joint project called the South Asia Regional Development Marketplace Partnership (SARDM).
The project, which began in 2008, provided grants for South Asian advocacy groups to begin distinctive stigma-reduction programs in their respective countries. The presenters explained that although HIV prevalence in South Asia is low overall, HIV is still on the rise among vulnerable and often marginalized groups, such as sex workers and their clients; injection drugs users (IDUs) and their partners; and men having sex with men (MSM). Stigma and other barriers impede efforts to reach those most in need of prevention, care, and treatment services. Each project included people from marginalized groups in planning and implementation, and encouraged them to artistically convey anti-stigma and discrimination messages. In doing so, they gave them a voice in communities where stigma and discrimination usually keep them silent.
Mariam Claeson, the regional coordinator for the World Bank South Asia AIDS Team, explained that over 1000 groups submitted applications to the program when it was announced. Submissions came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Out of the 1000, 26 were chosen from six countries to pilot their innovative interventions over a 12- to 18-month period. They awarded grants totaling $1.04 million; an average grant was $40,000. In all, the 26 groups reached more than 96,264 people, and trained 4,905 people. The projects generated 504 news articles, and developed 426 projects, such as training curricula, information, documentaries, and plays.
Traditional theatre in India: A group called Lotus Integrated AIDS Awareness Sangam, which reaches out to men who have sex with men, had members develop a play about their struggles in life. They performed it 75 times in one year in rural villages of Tamil Nadu. Participants reported a significant decrease in stigma and discrimination, and 147 “hidden” MSM identified themselves to Lotus and sought services.
Making mannequins in Bangladesh: JOBS Trust, a group which seeks to rehabilitate injection drug users through economic development, employed injection drug users to make specially designed, red mannequins which are displayed in clothing stores. These mannequins are adorned with signs which highlight the plight of marginalized groups victimized by stigma and discrimination.
Beauty pageants in Nepal: The Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities Nepal held a beauty pageant featuring transgendered contestants as a way to empower its members and raise awareness about stigma. As government officials attended the pageant and voiced their support, implementers hoped that such an event would aid in reducing discrimination.
July 21, 2010 – PinkNews
Laws against homosexuality ‘spreading HIV infections’
by Jessica Geen
Anti-gay laws in the Asia-Pacific region are causing higher rates of HIV infections, the UN has warned. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), such laws mean that gay men and trans people are less likely to seek medical help and be aware of how to prevent HIV transmission. In a statement released at the World AIDS Conference in Vienna, the UNDP said: "Some 19 of 48 countries in the Asia Pacific region continue to criminalise male-to-male sex.
"These laws often taken on the force of vigilantism, frequently leading to abuse and human rights violations. Correspondingly, HIV prevalence has reached alarming levels among men who have sex with men and transgender populations in many countries of the region." Some of the countries in the region which criminalise gay sex are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Kiribati and Malaysia. The report said that while some of these countries identify men who have sex with men of being at particular risk of HIV, police target gay men and trans people leading to assaults, extortion and imprisonment.
It added that health workers, many of whom are gay or trans, are also targeted, which leads to the disruption of safer sex and health care schemes. Events on HIV prevention and publicity materials are often censored, the UNDP said, while banning gay sex discourages support groups being set up.
The report claimed that half of all new HIV infections will be found in gay and bisexual men by 2020 if current trends continue. It recommended repealing anti-gay laws, supporting community-based education and implementing anti-discrimination policies across the region.
17 September 2010 – Fridae
SOGI takes center stage at Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions – Part 1
Note: [SOGI is an abbreviation for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity]
by Grace Poore, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people in Asia and the Pacific Islands experience extra-judicial killings, torture, violence and rape, as well as discrimination in employment, education, housing and health services.
Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people in Asia and the Pacific Islands experience extra-judicial killings, torture, violence and rape, as well as discrimination in employment, education, housing and health services. These are the preliminary findings of the Advisory Council of Jurists (ACJ) of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) that met August 3-5, 2010 in Bali, Indonesia. This independent body of legal experts has found that at least 17 API governments (1) have failed to provide protections for LGBT people because their national laws, policies and practices are inconsistent with international human rights law.
In response to these realities for LGBT people in the region, the APF has begun the process of addressing discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as a legitimate human rights issue requiring the attention of its member institutions that are National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs).
The fact that protecting the human rights of LGBT people has captured the attention and become a focus for the APF is pleasantly surprising. Surprising because, only three countries in the region have laws providing explicit protection of LGBT human rights (2), while nineteen countries still have laws that criminalize consensual homosexual relations (3). Many of the NHRIs that are members of the APF have never discussed – let alone considered – sexual orientation and gender identity as a human-rights issue. In fact, many state officials in the region view non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity as anti-religious and counter cultural.
How then did it happen that the APF arrived at this statement in support of LGBT human rights? It began in May 2009, when nine national human rights institutions in the API region became the first in the world to adopt recommendations from the Yogyakarta Principles. They issued a consensus statement affirming that the mandate of NHRIs extends to those who suffer human rights violations based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. They proposed that this be integrated into the work of member institutions and that respect for the Yogyakarta Principles by state and non-state actors be promoted. (4)
Subsequently, the APF commissioned a research paper on emerging legal concerns for LGBT people in the API region for consideration by the ACJ – a body of international human rights experts, high-level judicial officers, and legal scholars established to advise the APF on international human rights issues and standards and to develop regional jurisprudence on interpreting and applying these.
As part of its deliberations, the ACJ met with five activists from the API region to help them grasp the adverse impact of states’ failures to provide protections for LGBT people. I was among these activists, who included Siddharth Narrain from Bangalore Alternative Law Forum, John Fisher from ARC International, Joy Liddicoat from the New Zealand National Human Rights Commission, and Edmund Settle from UNDP. (5) Together, we pored through pages and pages of examples in API countries where inconsistencies between international human rights standards and national laws, polices and practices deprived LGBT people of human rights protections. To address these inconsistencies, the ACJ then developed recommendations for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the work of national human rights institutions and the national human rights action plans in API countries with membership in the APF.
On the morning of August 5, 2010, the ACJ presented its findings and recommendations on sexual orientation and gender identity to the APF. In his introduction to these recommendations, Vitit Muntabhorn (6), law professor and Co-Chair of the Civil Society Working Group for a regional human rights mechanism within ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) told the 90 participants at the APF meeting, “The ACJ has taken a soft entry point – research, dialogue, education first. We understand the sensitivity.” It was strategic on his part to try and ease any anxieties in the room and pre-empt any immediate rejection of the recommendations that followed on decriminalization and anti-discrimination–delivered by two other jurists, Justice Susan Glazebrook of New Zealand Court of Appeal, and Andrea Durbach, director of the Australian Human Rights Centre Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales. (7)
I braced myself for the reactions of the room, recalling the dialogue two days earlier between some of the NHRI representatives and civil society activists of the Asian NGOs Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI). In this interaction, the human rights commissioner from Bangladesh stated, “There are human rights of different groups but as a Commission we have to address problems that have national impact. Sexual orientation has been taboo in our country. Only recently are these issues discussed in our country and that too in urban areas. This was raised in the UPR but sexual orientation is not an issue for civil society and they have not made a demand for it to be addressed so until we have dealt with other more important issues in our country we ReadClaiming Justice -* *A Guidebook on Women Human Rights Defenders*, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, 2007.
17 September 2010 – Fridae
SOGI takes center stage at Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions – Part 2
by Grace Poore, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
At least 17 Asia Pacific governments fail to provide protections for LGBT people because their national laws, policies and practices which are inconsistent with international human rights law.
The findings and recommendations of the Advisory Council of Jurists presented to the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) during its August 2010 meeting in Bali, Indonesia were significant. As I shared in the first part of this review, it was a major achievement for this independent body of legal experts to conclude that at least 17 API governments have failed to provide protections for LGBT people because their national laws, policies and practices are inconsistent with international human rights law. In response the ACJ is recommending that national human rights institutions take on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and ensure the compliance of national laws and policies with international human rights protections for LGBT people in a way that involves the participation of LGBT groups and individuals.
For me, so much rides on the NHRIs effectively implementing the ACJ recommendations since the API region lacks a regional human rights monitoring entity (even the credibility of the newly-formed ASEAN Commission on Human Rights (ACHR) is uncertain). In addition, access to international human rights entities such as the United Nations is limited, not only because the UN is so far away, but also because people whose rights are being violated, have limited access to these avenues for redress – assuming redress is possible. However, since the APF and the ACJ have no enforcement mechanism or power, it is unclear what will happen if these recommendations are not implemented – for instance, in the name of religion or cultural values. Since there is no centrally imposed penalty or peer pressure for weak or non-implementation of international human-rights standards, how will disregard for the ACJ recommendations be addressed in a productive way?
The independence of the national human rights institutions is critically important. According to the Paris Principles, (9) which serve as criteria for the effectiveness of NHRIs, national institutions should have a clearly defined but broad-based mandate defined by legislative decree or the constitution. They must remain independent from government, have membership that reflects the composition of society, work in close cooperation with civil society and NGOs, and be adequately resourced by the state to carry out their work as NHRIs. But, according to Emerlynne Gill, coordinator of the ANNI Network, which monitors the performance of NHRIs in Asia, in most Asian countries members of NHRIs are chosen either only by the President, the Prime Minister, or by “a select group of like-minded people, which often results in appointments that are not based on human rights expertise.” Gill says that many NHRIs in the region lack pluralism in their composition and transparency in the selection process, which she feels are “two pivotal elements for ensuring the independence and effectiveness of NHRIs [while] minimizing the danger of neglecting less mainstream issues which may be affecting groups considered to be minorities in the country.”
Putting the ACJ recommendations into operation really requires independence from government. This is particularly so when one considers that many government officials and human-rights groups consider sexual orientation and gender identity issues to be inconsequential compared with poverty and lack of housing as if LGBT people don’t also face poverty and homelessness. Some religious and culturally conservative people even argue that LGBT people have no human rights, or that they are not human.
One hopeful reminder in this somewhat bleak picture – from Thai activist Paisarn Likhitpreechakul – is that strong leadership can determine how effectively an NHRI performs. For instance, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand became a strong ally of LGBT activists under the leadership of a previous commissioner, Naiyana Supapung. Commissioner Supapung made great strides in promoting sexual diversity and respect for LGBT people, finding resources for the work of LGBT human rights groups, and changing the understanding of human rights within the NHRI. Another hopeful reminder is that in some Asian countries, despite the state’s reluctance to decriminalize same sex relations and gender diversity, there is also no desire to see people being mistreated because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. NHRIs can also find support from civil society when faced with cultural and religious hardliners who try to shut them down.
Courts can also set the tempo for change. Siddharth Narrain and Arvind Narrain note in their background paper for the APF on emerging legal concerns for LGBT people in the API region, that despite the barriers to human rights for LGBT people, the judiciary has been a “pro-active force.” They point to key decisions by the Superior Courts in Australia (Toonen), Philippines (Ang Ladlad), Korea (National Human Rights Commission of Korea), Nepal (Sunil Babu Pant) and India (Naz Foundation) as being “instrumental in signaling greater respect for the rights of LGBT people.” More importantly, these court decisions send a message that the protection of LGBT people’s rights is as the APF is trying to point out, “entirely consistent with so-called Asian values.”
Grace Poore is a Malaysian activist and is based in Washington D.C. as the Regional Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific Islands at IGLHRC.
October 6, 2010 – Gay Asia App
Free Advertising Opportunity for Gay Businesses in Asia
Having a website to attract customers is no longer enough. More and more people are depending on hand-held mobile devices, like iPhone, iPod, iPad, Nokia SmartPhone, Palm and BlackBerry to locate businesses and find other important information. Here is a great opportunity for you to attract new customers!Your business can be included in an application ("app"), a small software program that can be used by hand-held devices to give you business access to new customers. If you are not familiar with apps you can visit Apple’s App Store for iPod, iPhone and iBook.
We would like to include information about your business in our app. The app will be free to customers, so we expect more than 50,000 users of Apple, Nokia and many other kinds of phones to use it. The popular Grindr app has more than one million users worldwide. Most of the people who download and use this app will be gay men between 20 and 50. Some will live nearby. Others will be visitors. All of them will be looking for new places to find fun, services, a great meal, nightlife and more.
30 November 2010 – apcom.org
Authorities across Asia Pacific severely undermine progress made in addressing the HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men and transgender people
Bangkok – During 2010, authorities across the Asia Pacific region have increasingly been targeting men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people, thereby violating basic human rights at best and, at worst, denying access to lifesaving HIV prevention, treatment and care. As a result, recent progress in addressing the HIV epidemic among these particularly vulnerable populations is being severely undermined, with potentially disastrous consequences for the region, a situation that has the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) truly alarmed.
“The incidents in question have occurred in every sub-region and numerous countries, including Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Malaysia and the Philippines,” noted Shivananda Khan, APCOM Chairperson and Chief Executive of Naz Foundation International.
“Sometimes they are isolated incidents acted out by local police seeking things other than mere justice. But in many instances, they are part of what can only be called a campaign of hate and discrimination directed at the most vulnerable of citizens.This is all the more shameful and sad because it undermines progress that is being made and negates the good work of those officials and authorities who are trying to help.”
"APCOM strongly believes that open dialogues is a first step towards ensuring that all people across Asia and the Pacific and the world, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity, can access HIV prevention, care, and treatment services for HIV," said Midnight Poonkasetwatana, APCOM Board member representing the Greater Mekong Sub-region.
"The need is for an environment free of government-sanctioned stigma, discrimination and criminalization," explained Roy Wadia, Executive Director, Heroes Project (India) and APCOM Communications Advisor. "The next step is for governments and authorities, in partnership with communities, to begin rectifying laws and harmonising legal practices and policies intended to help efforts to address HIV, strengthen public health for all, and most importantly save many lives from being lost."
December 03, 2010 – Asia One
Promiscuous youth sex on the rise
by Joy Fang
Younger people are indulging in same-sex encounters, with about three in four of those aged 16 and under not practising safe sex during their first sexual experience, a recent survey found. The survey found that an alarming 74 per cent of respondents within that age group did not use a condom, as compared with 36 per cent of those aged between 25 and 30 years old, and 44 per cent for those aged between 21 and 24 years old. These results were revealed at the inaugural Regional Consultation for Developed Asia on HIV in men-who-have-sex-with-men, or MSM, and transgender people. The two-day event follows World Aids Day on Wednesday.
The survey also showed an increase in the number of people who have never gone for a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) test – to 41 per cent from 30 per cent last year. The number of those who have had an HIV test in the past six months has also dipped, from 33 per cent to 26 per cent. The survey polled more than 13,882 people from 11 countries in Asia, including China and Vietnam. About 2,000 Singaporeans were surveyed.
Most respondents were aged between 18 and 50, with 80 per cent of the group identifying themselves as homosexual, while another 17.5 per cent comprises bisexuals. The survey was conducted online over the past two months by gay-lifestyle portal Fridae.com. Its founder, Dr Stuart Koe, expressed concern over the findings. He said: "This needs to be addressed in our schools’ education programmes. We need to target the young early."
This comes in the wake of figures released by the Ministry of Health (MOH), which showed a drop of 7 per cent in the number of people having tests done. The MOH announced on Monday that 373 more Singaporeans were diagnosed with HIV between January and October this year. There are currently 4,777 Singaporeans with HIV here.
Mr Steven Lee, 42, who is gay and HIV-positive, told my paper that he was devastated when he was diagnosed a decade ago, after being infected by his long-term partner. His partner, who was not aware that he had the virus and had not gone for a test, died two years later. He said: "I think testing for HIV is so important.
People need to know their status so they can plan for their future and avoid hurting the people they love."
December 7, 2010 – Edmund Settle
Rising HIV Rates in Asia Among MSM and Transgender Populations
Initial findings of multi city study highlight innovation and challenges in city level HIV responses
Hong Kong – While HIV epidemics in many countries of the world are stabilizing, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender persons in major cities in Asia continues to be at extremely high levels, and in some cities appears to be increasing. There are concerns that if countries fail to strengthen city level responses, the situation may worsen, leading to potential reversal of national progress on HIV. The recent UNAIDS 2010 report on the global AIDS epidemic documents high HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men in several geographic zones within countries in the region. For example, 29% in parts of Myanmar, 5% in Indonesia, and between 7%–18% in parts of southern India.
Progress has been made to expand specific programmes and funding for these key affected populations, however the proportion of urban MSM and transgender persons reached by these interventions remains low. According to a recent review conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the coverage of HIV services reported by countries of the Asia region suggest that only between 9 percent and 20 percent of MSM are reached by HIV prevention services, falling well short of targets for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
Responding to this challenge, the ‘Action Planning Meeting – Men Who Have Sex with Men and Transgender Populations Multi-City HIV Initiative’ will bring together key members of local government health departments, civil society and international partners to review the current epidemic trends, discuss the key findings of a multi-city study conducted to examine municipal responses and prioritize collective actions to scale-up.
Overall, participants aim to enhance the impact of a wide range of innovative strategies promoting access to city-level health and rights-based services for MSM and transgender persons. “We know that HIV epidemics among MSM and transgender persons are most concentrated at the city level – so focusing efforts in this way, will give us the best chance of turning the tide on MSM and transgender epidemics,” said Steve Kraus, Regional Director for the Asia Pacific office of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
In support of the regional multi-city MSM and HIV initiative, a UNDP and USAID-supported study of current city-level responses in Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, Yangon, Ho Chi Minh City and Chengdu is being produced to highlight innovate responses and underlines that city-based responses will have most effect on tackling HIV among MSM and transgender persons. The study also confirms that progress continues to be hampered by the existence of punitive laws and policies, selective enforcement practices and the lack of coordination between local health and law enforcement officials. Collectively, these challenges often discourage innovation, limit investment and hamper scale-up.
“Restrictive legal environments and selective enforcement practices continue to be significant barriers to effective, rights based responses. Therefore, programmes to creatively engage city governments and law enforcement agencies need to be included in the next generation of HIV responses,” said Clifton Cortez, UNDP HIV Practice Leader for Asia-Pacific Region.
According to the report, innovative approaches to prevention and access to health care services in the region outlined in the study include:
• Information, Communication Technologies (ICT) – the internet, new mobile and handheld technologies being used to increase the reach of HIV services to MSM and transgender people
• New partnerships across the private, civil society, academic and government sectors provide expanded opportunities for increasing service delivery and are developing new approaches and improvements in HIV health services.
• City government coordination and leadership maximizing cooperation and support scale-up of services across sectors for delivery of voluntary testing and counseling services in a non-medical setting
• Innovations in service design by hospitals and clinics for MSM and transgender persons improving the delivery of services
“Urgent action is needed to turn innovative projects and approaches that have been developed into broader, scaled-up responses in these Asian mega-cities, where new cases of HIV infections are rising dangerously fast among men who have sex with men ,” said Cameron Wolf, Senior Regional HIV/AIDS Technical Advisor, USAID Regional Development Mission Asia.
“We are honored to host and share our experience in this important meeting, which is critical in mobilizing major stakeholders in the six cities to strengthen rights-based and evidence informed interventions with the best available resources,” said Dr PY Lam, Director of Health, Hong Kong, China.
Participating cities were identified as being representative of urban centres in the Southeast Asia with the criteria including population size, HIV prevalence among MSM and transgender persons, and/or existence of government and civil society responses. Due to existing strong multi-sector partnerships in HIV responses for MSM populations, Hong Kong and Singapore have been identified as the host and resource cities for the regional process.
“The innovative projects we are seeing in the study are encouraging but too often these are scattered, individual projects that are effective in small numbers but are not yet to sufficient scale to change course of the epidemic,” said Shivananda Khan, Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health Chairperson.
The ‘Men Who Have Sex with Men and Transgender Populations Multi-City HIV Initiative’ is being supported by USAID Regional Development Mission Asia, UNDP, UNAIDS, WHO, Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) and the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (APN+). The meeting is being hosted by the Hong Kong Department of Health.
For more information:
Information and Public Relations Unit | Department of Health, Hong Kong | email@example.com | +852 2961 8542
Edmund Settle | HIV Policy Specialist, UNDP Asia-Pacific Centre | firstname.lastname@example.org | +66 818369300
Beth Magne-Watts | UNAIDS Regional Communications Advisor | email@example.com | +66 2 680 4127
December 09, 2010 – Global Health Magazine
Don’t Forget MSM–stemming the tide for a population vulnerable to HIV
by Margaret Dadian
Few populations are more threatened by the global HIV epidemic than men who have sex with men (MSM). In many regions, they are up to nine times more vulnerable to HIV than the general population. This vulnerability is due, in part, to unsafe sexual behaviors, but also to the social stigmatization, marginalization, and violence that drive MSM underground.
Homophobia is too often embedded in a country’s laws as well as its culture. In some 80 countries around the world, consensual homosexual sex is a crime that carries the penalty of imprisonment – and worse. Just last year, legislation was introduced to the Ugandan Parliament that would increase punishment for same-sex acts to life in prison and even the death penalty. Unfortunately, Uganda is not alone among African nations in considering such regressive legal persecution of sexual minorities.
On the streets, other trends are equally troubling. This month, the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Health (APCOM) released its documentation of evidence that violence by police and other authorities against MSM and transgender people is on the rise throughout the region, a "campaign of hate and discrimination directed at the most vulnerable of citizens," according to APCOM Chairperson Sivananda Khan. Both discriminatory cultural norms and punitive laws prevent MSM from accessing HIV and other health services because they fear exposure of their sexuality could lead to mistreatment, incarceration, and violence. This creates a vicious cycle: Where the demand for the few existing services for MSM is stifled, even fewer MSM-targeted services are created. This is confirmed by data showing that only one in 10 MSM around the world has access to HIV prevention services.
Where human rights suffer, so does public health. In 2008, a UNAIDS report found higher levels of HIV prevalence among MSM in countries that criminalize homosexuality. For example, Guyana, where homosexuality is illegal, has HIV prevalence of more than 20 percent among MSM. In neighboring Suriname, where homosexual sex is not a crime, HIV prevalence among MSM is below 8 percent. Similar patterns are found worldwide.
But even in very difficult settings, prevention, testing and counseling, and care services are helping MSM deal with HIV. In Ghana, as in most of Africa, homosexuality is illegal and highly stigmatized. Yet a handful of small programs quietly and courageously provide hidden MSM populations with critical HIV services. The Center for Popular Education and Human Rights (CEPEHRG) in Accra and the Maritime Life Precious Foundation in Takoradi, both supported by PEPFAR, offer peer education, drop-in clinics, and an innovative, cell phone-based information, referral and counseling service. While both programs must operate with great sensitivity to prevailing public attitudes, their successes are noticed by Ghanaian officials, and collaborative efforts – such as MSM-friendly training for nurses and counselors in the public health sector – are increasing. Over time, Ghana may develop into a regional pioneer in programming for MSM and a model to other African nations.
In India, which repealed its legal ban on homosexual sex in India in 2009, the Humsafar Trust of Mumbai has spent years advocating for the rights of MSM and for an end to stigma and discrimination against sexual minorities. As the threat of HIV grew, Humsafar’s leaders realized they needed to create the kind of HIV programs for MSM that government health agencies were simply not providing. Humsafar has since built a wide array of prevention, treatment, care and support services, a true continuum of care for Mumbai’s complex and diverse MSM populations, despite discrimination against MSM in the larger society. Now, Humsafar and similar MSM organizations advise the Indian government on policy matters and help the Ministry of Health design national HIV programs that respond to the needs of MSM.
These pioneering programs represent promising approaches that address the needs of MSM in challenging settings. With increased emphasis on reducing overall HIV prevalence by focusing on this most-at-risk population, program planners and implementers on the ground need ready access to research, tools and successful interventions targeting MSM. The AIDSTAR-One Knowledge Base topic on hard-to-reach MSM gathers and synthesizes these resources to help support the design and implementation of evidence-informed programs. As the evidence increasingly confirms that HIV prevention programming targeting MSM is effective at slowing HIV transmission, governments, public health practitioners, and the general population must engage in honest dialogue about how best to meet the needs of this vulnerable population.