Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
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Address homophobia and transphobia to tackle HIV

1
MAY
2012

India. MSM and transgender people face intense stigma and discrimination around the world © Jenny Matthew for the Alliance

As the International Day Against Transphobia and Homophobia approaches (17 May), commitments to reach men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people must be upheld.

An effective HIV response that offers full access to health services for MSM and transgender people remains hindered by widespread discrimination, stigma and violence.

We have a strong 20 year track record of working with most at risk populations and we know that ensuring their human rights are protected, and expanding their access to services is essential to keep them healthy.

Tackling homophobia and transphobia is vital to the HIV response; it is imperative that national governments adhere to their commitments to protect the human rights of their LGBT citizens, in order to prevent HIV infection.

Matching money to the rhetoric

The Political Declaration agreed at the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS in June 2011 committed to a human rights approach to HIV and acknowledged that the ongoing response has to reach populations that are at higher risk, including MSM.

There was widespread disappointment that transgender people were not mentioned in the declaration. However in 2011 we saw increased high level representation of transgender people, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). For example, Atlacatl, the Alliance Linking Organisation in El Salvador, and REDLACTRANS, a regional transgender network, were present at the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly, where they demanded an end to hate crimes. At this meeting, the OAS reaffirmed their commitments to human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

There was further recognition in December when US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, addressed the UN and focused on the protection of LGBT rights. Days before, President Obama issued a Memorandum with instructions for all US agencies working abroad to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT people.

This recent progress is welcome, but it will only make a difference if it is accompanied by a financial commitment to working with most at risk populations.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria is crucial to financing this work; it is the most effective funding mechanism for ensuring the most at risk can access HIV prevention and life saving services. We urge national governments to uphold their commitments by fully funding the Global Fund.  You can read more in our report.

Alliance programming in action

We see at first hand the barriers that punitive laws, and law enforcement practices, create for people who need quick and easy access to HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and care services.

The Alliance works to reach people who are most affected by the epidemic in each region. Out of the 35 countries where we have a Linking Organisation or Country Office, 19 criminalise MSM, making it even harder to expand their access to services. Decriminalisation is therefore imperative, from both a human rights perspective and for an effective HIV response.

In spite of these difficulties over two-thirds of Alliance Linking Organisations and programmes reach MSM (24/35 countries and regional programmes), and almost half work with transgender people (17/35). In 2011 we reached 90,000 people with stigma and discrimination reduction activities.

A key example of this is Pehchan, a five year project funded by the Global Fund under round 9, for which India HIV/AIDS Alliance is the principal recipient.

Pehchan builds the capacity of community-based organisations for MSM, transgenders and hijras in 17 states in India to be more effective partners in the government's HIV prevention programme. Members of these communities face homophobia and transphobia as a daily reality of their lives.

Read Binni’s story below to find out how Pehchan is helping underserved and vulnerable sexual minorities.  

Binni’s story

Binni,
 a 
hijra from Kolkata (c) Alliance

Binni is a hijra from Kolkata and is living with HIV. She developed an infection after having sex reassignment surgery without proper medical facilities. Sex reassignment surgery is currently illegal in India so transgenders and hijras like Binni often resort to risky, illegal procedures.

When she sought help at the Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital, staff refused to offer her a bed with other patients in the hospital because she was a hijra.

“I was suffering from pain and feeling helpless when I was refused access to hospital treatment and care,” she says.

An intense campaign for Binni was launched by the ATHB network and Pehchan project’s advocacy team. This led to media coverage of her story and support from the West Bengal State AIDS Control Society and State Health Minister. As a result of this a doctor at the hospital agreed to treat her. “Pehchan and ATHB network fought relentlessly to get me admitted to the hospital,” Binni explains. “After many hurdles, I was admitted and offered a separate room."

“I thank all the LGBT community activists and leaders from Gokhale Road Bandhan for showing their solidarity at a time when I most needed it,” she says.

Binni was in hospital for two months and is now making a good recovery. She has since been recruited as an outreach worker for the Pehchan project and will work to support other members of the hijra community. “This experience has instilled self-confidence and esteem in my being,” she says.

Binni’s story shows the prejudice frequently experienced by hijras and the transgender community. It highlights the urgent need to assure equality and access for such communities in the judicial and health sectors and in society in general.

You can read more about Pehchan’s first year of progress in this report.

Find out more