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GRASSROOTS: The GMT Initiative Blog

Grassroots reports on the work of amfAR-supported research teams and advocates responding to the devastating impact of HIV among gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender individuals (collectively, GMT).

Swaziland: Being the Change for MSM

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Posted by Kent Klindera, May 4, 2011

I am visiting Swaziland and last night I had a wonderful conversation with three 20-something gay men—an immigration official, a nurse, and a school teacher. Into the wee hours, over a little whiskey, we talked of their disdain for closet doors (one had recently been confronted by his parents and he did not lie); of their challenges in finding true love; male circumcision; and of their dreams of marrying a man and starting a family (one talked of mixing his partner’s sperm with his to use with a surrogate mother). They also were pretty scared of HIV/AIDS and talked about how they “almost” always used condoms, but admitted not all their gay male friends feel at risk—this in a country where more than 25 percent of the population has HIV, the highest prevalence rate in the world.

Swaziland has the highest HIV rate in the world yet its government denies the existence of MSM

 No research has been done here on HIV among MSM. Sadly, the government denies the existence of MSM and has not invested any funding in MSM-specific HIV programming.  The good news is that the U.S. government is examining how to conduct a study on MSM and HIV, which would prove the existence of gay men and shine a light on risk factors associated with HIV. amfAR’s MSM Initiative is currently supporting such a study in Zambia as well as others in Jamaica, Peru, and South Africa.  

What I saw in Swaziland was idealism and courage. Three young men who recognize that they are “the change” (as Gandhi said: “be the change”) and that they can help make Swaziland better for younger gay and lesbian people. The teacher, a masculine-looking guy, talked of how he is quick to stop school children from bullying other kids who are displaying “alternative gender norms,” as well as students who may be transgender and in the process of realizing their identities. 

In a country with very few freedoms (Swaziland is the last governing monarchy in Africa), it was great to be a part of a discussion of young men about to break free!  


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