Climate of state-sponsored homophobia ups HIV rates: amfAR announces grants

The International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) on 17th of May, provides yet another opportunity to talk about the wave of discrimination and violence against men who have sex with men (MSM) that is driving the spread of HIV/AIDS in developing countries. Gross violations of human rights in Uganda, Jamaica, Uzbekistan and elsewhere have created a climate of fear, forcing MSM underground and undermining HIV/AIDS services. Today, MSM are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population and their disproportionate vulnerability is threatening to stagnate the progress we have made in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Read more

On IDAHO, the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) has good news to share. The organization is announcing a quarter-million US dollars in grants to community groups providing HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and treatment services to MSM in Africa and the Caribbean. These grants will be given to 16 groups dedicated to fighting HIV and discrimination simultaneously. Many of these grant recipients face constant threats of violence simply because of the population they serve. (See one recipient, Reverend Paul Mokhethi from SANERELA, tell his struggle in this video online here). In the upcoming months, amfAR will also be announcing a set of grants to groups working throughout Asia.

IDAHO is an opportunity to remember that we cannot make progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS until we make progress in the fight against homophobia.

"Primary component of our MSM initiative is supporting grassroots organisations to do work around MSM and transgender issues. On IDAHO we are in the process of making awards for groups in three different regions in Africa and the Caribbean and East Europe and Central Asia, and each year we give awards - small grants - to organisations throughout the world however we work in the cycles, and our cycle right now is African region. We also have a call for proposal which is due on IDAHO for groups within Asia-Pacific region and we are expecting applications to come in from community groups within that region" said Kent Klindera, Program Manager of the MSM Initiative for amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, since 2009. Through his role, Klindera oversees a program that, since its launch in July 2007, has given $1.8 million to support 75 front line organizations serving men who have sex with men (MSM) in 50 countries around the world.

"There is a clear link between homophobia and transphobia (transgendered phobia) - it increases risk of HIV for men who have sex with men and transgendered people. If we can bring down homophobia we can in turn bring down HIV rates" said Kent Klindera.

Sharing an example of state-sponsored homophobia, Kent says "police recovered graphic materials [from the premises of community groups working on HIV prevention among MSM], but those materials were actually safer sex materials. The climate of homophobia and state-sponsored homophobia is clearly contributing to the spread of HIV."

Similar stories rebound from communities across the countries with alarming HIV rates. In India, three health advocates from a community based organization had to face imprisonment for close to 50 days as an outcome of state-sponsored homophobia and conflicting policies that on one hand criminalise same-sex behaviour and on another hand, prioritise MSM as high risk communities for HIV prevention work and other related services. Let's hope on this year's International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), the governments and those who do moral policing, will recognise the right to life with dignity for every human being and stop all kinds of discrimination, stigma and violence against people with different sexualities.

Bobby Ramakant - CNS

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