amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

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).

Testing in Belgrade

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Posted by Kent Klindera, June 10, 2013

Djordje and Isein hand out condoms and recruit people for testing in the park.

I’m just leaving Serbia after a most impressive two-day visit to our colleagues here at the Safe Pulse of Youth (SPY), an LGBT-led organization providing HIV outreach and social-support services to young LGBT individuals.  I spent the weekend being an outreach worker with their team.  Saturday night we were parked just outside the Pleasure Night Club from 11:00 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., and Sunday afternoon we worked a major public sex environment near a beautiful reservoir full of Belgradians enjoying one of the first warm sunny days of the summer season.  On both occasions, SPY teamed up with JAZAS—a mainstream AIDS organization that is supported by the Global Fund to Fights AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria—to offer on-the-spot HIV testing in a van.

belgrade1Djordje and Isein in the park.

SPY receives minimal funding from the Ministry of Health (MOH) – Serbia’s primary recipient of Global Fund support.  The MOH/Global Fund supports SPY’s outreach program, but it also receives amfAR funding to go several steps further.  Beyond just “chasing the numbers” of HIV testing, amfAR is helping SPY build a more comprehensive program focused on the whole person.  They have a drop-in center that provides HIV tests, along with psychosocial support, including support for GMT living with HIV.  They are also part of a coordinated effort by many Serbian LGBT organizations to hold their government accountable to its promises about LGBT rights in the country.

While we were doing outreach in a major park, Isein and Djorde (staff at SPY and the cutest couple!) explained to me that public sex was more common in Serbia during the communist era, because very little property was “private”, and it was hard to find a space to be with a same sex partner because so much space was shared with others.  This is changing today.  More and more young people are becoming increasingly bold about their sexual orientation or gender identity  and are meeting each other in more visible public spaces and interacting more at home in private.  SPY is helping link the public-health community to this new generation of LGBT people.

Djordje and Isein in the park.

Interestingly enough, there was major police presence at the night club.  Outside the club, there were four uniformed officers and a vehicle, and inside two plain clothes officers roamed the bar.  Since attacks often occurred against LGBT people in years past, the police are now present every Friday and Saturday evening in these clubs to “protect.”  My colleagues at SPY explained their presence was meant to bring a sense of security. However the constant police presence also reminds everyone of the hate they suffer from in Serbia. 

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