Look Inside: Do not neglect self-stigma among young MSM and transgender

Bobby Ramakant - CNS
At 11th ICAAP, all delegates must have heard the words: stigma and discrimination. But often we refer to external factors that contribute to stigma and discrimination for key populations living with HIV, and might fail to look inside. “We also need to look at stigma and discrimination keeping the ‘self’ factor in mind - on how young men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people absorb external stigma and discrimination for instance” said Tung Duy Bui from Viet Nam. Bui is also the Regional Coordinator of “Youth Voices Count (YVC)” which is a network of young MSM and transgender people in Asia Pacific. He spoke to 11th ICAAP Insight team after the symposium on self-stigma among young MSM and transgender.

Young MSM and transgender people face unique self-issues, including intense self-stigma. Self-issues are defined by YVC as a set of concerns that positively or negatively impact self-acceptance, self-perception, self-efficacy, self-esteem and self-confidence. Self-stigma   often results when self-issues interact with external causes (such as discrimination or violence in family, school, social or work settings), resulting in depression, low self-esteem, anger and self-harm, even suicidal intent.

Added Bui: “Self-stigma   contributes to ‘bridging behaviours’ – such as injecting drug use – that can increase a young person’s sexual risk-taking. Self-stigma appears to decrease condom use, as the need to feel love or affection outweighs long-term health consequences of unprotected sex. Also if you have a low self-esteem, you are less likely to have the power dynamics to negotiate condom use with your partner.”

We need to stop neglecting self-stigma. Preventing HIV infections in young MSM and transgender people, requires addressing self-issues and the linkages with HIV vulnerability and risk behaviours.

Bui believes that addressing self-stigma in young MSM and transgender people will drive them to a better life where they take care of their own health. “We do not want to use the big word ‘internalized homophobia or transphobia’ although that might be the right scientific word for self-stigma, because we prefer a term with ‘self’ factor and a term which is about young people themselves. We are not complaining here in this session rather encouraging each other to love themselves, help themselves and to go to health services, seek support, join their community and open up for love” said Bui.

Referring to the YVC Policy Brief on self-stigma in young MSM and transgender people, formally titled "I feel like I do not deserve happiness at all", Bui summarises some recommendations to address self-stigma. “Addressing self-stigma should start from the self. Interventions addressing self-stigma and its linkages to HIV are needed for young MSM and transgender people. We also need mass media and communication campaigns to educate the public about sexuality and gender, schools must create safe environments for young MSM and transgender people to pursue their education, and we must push for legal reforms for supportive policies that protect human rights and health of young MSM and transgender people” said Bui.

Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service - CNS
November 2013

Note: This article was first published in 11th ICAAP INSIGHT, the official daily conference newspaper of 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (11th ICAAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. This newspaper was managed by Inis Communication and CNS.