In the current humanitarian situation in Haiti the work of Alliance Linking Organisation, POZ, shows that perhaps more than ever, efforts towards reconstruction in the country need to take into account the needs of the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
POZ remind us that discussing the situation of gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) is still seen as taboo by many, largely due to the powerful influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Interestingly, Haiti’s other main religion, Vodou, is very open to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
POZ too has always offered its services to all. Their staff soon realised that those men who openly identified themselves as gay, as well as other men who had sex with men, had particular needs, different from other people who were also accessing the basic package of HIV services.
Support groups running information sessions were started on a regular basis, and these were closely linked to associations of men who have sex with men, such as SéroVie. PEPFAR, through the US Centers of Disease Control has since funded POZ to continue to provide care and support to MSM. The earthquake in 2010 caused the breakdown of many traditional community ties. As a result these new types of support networks have become crucial, particularly for marginalised sectors of the population.
REACHING OUT TO LGBT
Based on this experience, POZ was invited by the US NGO network, Housing Works, and its Haitian partners to take part in the first conference for LGBT Haitians held on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia 2012. POZ is working with Housing Works to train peer outreach workers to reach LGBT people in four of Haiti’s 10 geographical departments. The outreach workers offer information on HIV and other STDs, provide referrals for other medical care, and have started to support advocacy initiatives, for instance a new association for gay rights, Kouraj , was recently formed in the west of the country.
It is clear that advocacy work in defence of the rights of LGBT communities needs to go hand in hand with the provision of services, particularly with regard to issues of access to health and HIV prevention. In 2012, the Alliance will support two members of POZ staff to visit our linking organisation in Senegal, in order to share experience of collecting evidence and data of the particular needs of gay men and MSM, in order to strengthen advocacy efforts.