Monday, June 9, 2014

amfAR’s GMT Initiative is Combating the Stigma and Discrimination that Fuel HIV Infections among LGBT Worldwide

By: Lucile Scott, amfAR

Since its inception in 2007, amfAR’s GMT Initiative has provided financial and technical support to over 164 community organizations working on the front lines of the epidemic to reduce the spread and impact of HIV among gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender individuals (collectively, GMT) in low- and middle-income countries. Worldwide, as treatment access and prevention science improves, stigma and discrimination is often the main barrier to reducing infection rates and improving access to care among GMT. Stigma and discrimination affect every aspect and stage of HIV treatment and prevention, from putting individuals at greater risk of engaging in high-risk behavior that can lead to HIV infection to preventing them from accessing health and testing services to stopping governments from targeting them with HIV treatment and prevention efforts—though they are often one of -- if not the-- most impacted populations in that government’s country.

amfAR launches a new report providing the first-ever
comprehensive analysis of the financing and implementation
of HIV programs for GMT in Southern Africa
The GMT Initiative provides funding and support for localized capacity-strengthening mentoring. This helps grantee partners develop advocacy, outreach, and training programs that target GMT, healthcare providers, governments, and the general population to reduce the stigma and discrimination they face. Many are doing this work in countries where homosexuality is illegal, and HIV rates are high.

Through these programs, our grantees
-train and empower members of the GMT community to perform peer HIV services and advocate for their rights
-train healthcare workers about how to provide GMT with stigma and discrimination-free care
-advocate for governments to overturn discriminatory policies that deny GMT rights, including proper healthcare
-train the governments about how to better reach GMT with HIV messaging once they have removed policy and legal barriers to doing so. 

The organizations also organize campaigns, performances, protests, and more that aim to educate the general population about the GMT community. The GMT Initiative continues to support our partner organizations as they grow and work to formalize and evaluate their programs to improve their impact and to better understand and pass on to others what strategies work most effectively.

In the past year, while our grantees have witnessed many milestones in combating stigma and discrimination, they have also witnessed much backlash to that progress. For instance, in Uganda, advocates recently succeeded in convincing the government to include GMT in their national HIV strategy. However, in December the Parliament passed a law criminalizing “promotion of homosexuality,” forcing those providing GMT with HIV services, including our grantee partner Spectrum Uganda, to—at-the-least temporarily—shut those services down. While that bill has not yet been signed into law by the President, similar bills passed in Nigeria and Russia were. They have also severely and, unless they are repealed, permanently curtailed our grantees’ and other organizations’ ability to do HIV outreach among GMT, reversing years of progress, and wasting millions of dollars in global AIDS funding.
amfAR grantee-partner SOMOSGAY's new
 men's health center during its launch party

But in Armenia, as a similar law was under debate (that has not passed), grantee partner We for Civil Equality worked with doctors, social workers and human rights structures within the Armenian government to create a strong medical referral system to help GMT living with HIV access non-discriminatory care and obtain their life-saving medications. And in Paraguay, our long-time grantee partner SOMOSGAY opened a men’s health center created to cater to the needs of GMT. Three grantee partner organizations in Togo hosted a workshop for members of the media on how to improve their stigmatizing portrayals of GMT. And in Argentina, grantee partner Asociación de Travestis, Transexuales, Transgéneros Argentinas (ATTTA) started shooting a documentary to educate the general population about the discrimination and barriers to equal rights that trans people experience each day.

A film shoot for amfAR grantee-partner ATTTA's documentary
about the fight for trans rights in Argentina  
As Yves Yomb, executive director of Alternatives-Cameroun, told us in July, shortly after a string of attacks against Cameroonian LGBT activists and organizations forced Alternatives to shut down their HIV outreach operations, “We know this revolution will take time, as do all the revolutions in the world.  We don't know if we will see the result, but we hope in 10 or 20 years, people will say the fight for gay rights began in 2005, and thanks to them we have the rights that we have at this moment.”

 And these are just a few of our grantee partners’ stories and successes. To read more about how they confront and combat stigma and discrimination, please read our GMT Initiative blog, Grassroots

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