Helem will receive the award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
“We are so pleased to be able to present our 2009 Felipa Award to Helem,” said IGLHRC’s Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick. “Helem works in very challenging circumstances to make a very real difference to the lives of countless LGBTI people in the Middle East and beyond. We applaud their courage and commitment to human rights for all.”
Helem, founded in Beirut in 2004, was the first sexual minority rights organisation in the Arab world. It is a leading advocate for the annulment of a Lebanese law used to punish sexual minorities. Its other main objective is to counter HIV and other sexually transmitted infections while advocating for the rights of patients and other vulnerable groups, such as men who have sex with men (MSM).
“Helem’s achievements would not have been possible without the support of friends and partner NGOs,” Georges Azzi, a founding member of Helem told the Alliance. “We hope to continue working all together hand in hand in order to push towards a more tolerant and diverse world.”
Recently Helem has broadened its HIV-related work in partnership with the Alliance’s other partner organisation in Lebanon, SIDC, with support from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance as part of the North Africa and Middle East Regional Programme (NAR).
Within the NAR Programme, Helem and SIDC have worked together to develop contextually appropriate Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials to increase MSM and their families' understanding of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Another key element of the programme is the outreach and peer education work in which Helem volunteers take the lead. They have distributed thousands of condoms and lubricants in specially designed pouches containing HIV information and the contact details of local support services, who are key to the referral system that Helem and SIDC have developed to ensure the health needs of MSM are met.
Helem has been instrumental in the provision of voluntary HIV testing and counselling, psychosocial support and confidential legal advice for sexual minorities. A telephone hotline is staffed by men who have sex with men, who have been trained in active listening.
Both organisations work in partnership to reinforce channels of communication and support with national stakeholders such as the National AIDS Programme, the police and UN agencies.
The NAR Programme, funded by the US Agency for International Development, covers four countries in North Africa and the Middle East (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Lebanon). Activities will soon expand as the programme enters its second funding phase.
The IGLHRC will present the Felipa de Souza Award to Helem as part of a gala event on 30 March in New York and on 2 April in San Francisco.