News / Africa

African Gays Under Attack as HIV/AIDS Epidemic Turns 30

A member of the Ugandan gay community carries a picture of murdered gay activist David Kato during his funeral near Mataba, January 28, 2011.
A member of the Ugandan gay community carries a picture of murdered gay activist David Kato during his funeral near Mataba, January 28, 2011.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Joe DeCapua

Thirty years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, stigma and discrimination continue to slow efforts to prevent and treat the disease. And more and more, gay men are becoming the targets in sub-Saharan Africa. In Uganda, for example, legislation had been pending that could have imposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts.

In its final day of doing any real business, the Uganda Parliament Friday did not vote on a controversial anti-homosexual bill. The bill had been widely condemned around the world, including by President Obama. While the official last day of parliament is May18th, much of the remaining time will be spent swearing in new members of parliament. The new parliament convenes in June and there is a chance that the bill’s author, David Bahati, could reintroduce it.

Life and death

UNAIDS uses the term “men who have sex with men,” or MSM, rather than gay. It says many men who engage in these sexual acts do not identify themselves as gay. UNAIDS also says transgenders are major targets of stigma and discrimination. These are people who do not conform to the standard male or female gender roles.

A leading U.S. magazine on HIV/AIDS, POZ, features a profile of some sub-Saharan African activists who risk their lives in promoting gay rights. POZ Editor-in-Chief Regan Hoffman is co-author of the article entitled Fearing No Evil.

Regan Hoffman, Editor-in-Chief, POZ Magazine
Regan Hoffman, Editor-in-Chief, POZ Magazine

“We’ve seen a significant uptick in hate crimes against gay people and we’ve seen them in the United States, as well as around the world. And the correlation between gay hate crimes and the risks to public health are something that people don’t understand,” she said.

In January, prominent Ugandan gay activist and school teacher David Kato was brutally murdered. He had been a leading voice against the anti-homosexual measure. About 80 countries around the world, including Uganda, have laws that make same-sex behavior a crime.

In 2010, a gay Malawi couple was sentenced to 14 years at hard labor after they announced their intention to marry. The judge told the men he wanted to protect the public from people like them. They were later released and told to have no further contact with one another.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza are taken into custody after celebrating their engagement
Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza are taken into custody after celebrating their engagement

Hoffman said hate crimes and anti-gay laws only help prolong the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“HIV is not a disease that only affects gay people. It never has been and it never will be. It affects anyone who shares a needle or has unprotected sex. And the disease predominately still around the world is a heterosexual disease,” she said.

Hoffman said Uganda’s image regarding HIV/AIDS has changed from the time when the country was praised for acting early against the disease.

“Uganda was a role model for HIV prevention and care because they were aggressively treating it and treating people benevolently who had the disease. It was remarkable. I’m not exactly sure what happened in terms of Uganda’s reversal of rates. I know it had to do in some part with a change in public attitude and also governmental attitude about being open about sexuality and therefore sexually treated disease,” she said.

Fight or flight

She said creating a climate of fear around HIV/AIDS only drives the epidemic underground, away from prevention and treatment programs.

“Whether you’re gay or straight, the odds of you going to get testing for HIV or seek care for HIV are very low because to do so might imply that you are a gay person. And if that can land you in jail for life, or you could be beaten and killed, why in God’s name would you go and seek your HIV status or seek care?”

The POZ article also features Kenyan activist David Kuria of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, who’s picture appears on the magazine’s cover.

“He does not have an easy life. His life is at risk. I was worried when we wrote the story that his life would be in greater danger. But he said to me that, you know, others have died and he does not want to see this continue. And the only way to stop it is to stand up against it,” said Hoffman.

Kuria told POZ, “In Kenya, it seems that men who lead double lives do so because they do not believe they have a choice. It is either marry a women or risk being killed.

In the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, it was often gay activists who sounded the alarm.

“You know,” she said, “it was the gay community that really was visible and they were the most outspoken and most effective advocates and activists. And so people tended to equate HIV with the gay community in a negative way, which was ironic because it was the gay community that fought for early access to care, awareness, testing. And it was the gay community that saved, in fact, many straight peoples’ lives.”

Hoffman has been living with HIV for about 16 years. She says she let down her guard and had unprotected sex twice with a man she had known for years. The man did not know his HIV status. She says had she continued to heed the warnings originally put out by the gay community she probably would not have been infected.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid