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).

Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act and HIV

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Posted by Kent Klindera on January 17, 2014

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President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act on January 7. (Photo: World Economic Forum)

Last week, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ignored local and international pressure and signed one of the world’s most discriminatory pieces of legislation related to LGBT rights. In early December, I visited Abuja, Nigeria, to attend a national conference on new HIV prevention technologies. It was an excellent conference that challenged Nigerians within government and civil society to increase their commitment to biomedical HIV prevention efforts, such as increasing antiretroviral access for people living with HIV to reduce their viral load, and thus reduce the likelihood they can pass HIV on to others. 

A large portion of the conference focused on programming and services for key affected populations—including, of course, gay men, other MSM and transgender (GMT) individuals. Nigeria has the world’s second largest HIV epidemic and study after study presented indicated that in Nigeria, as in so many African countries, a high percentage of GMT folks are infected with HIV and clearly in need of greater attention. Government representatives from the Ministry of Health were very receptive to improving their HIV programming to better serve GMT, and I left Nigeria with a lot of hope for a bright 2014.

ban ki moon statementUN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denounced the law, stating it would “fuel violence." (Photo: World Economic Forum)Now, on a daily basis, I am receiving word of LGBT individuals being hunted, arrested, and persecuted by police and vigilante groups. Same-sex sexual conduct is already illegal in Nigeria, but the “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act” extended that criminalization by making any persons involved in a same-sex wedding, even those who attend, subject to arrest. It also outlaws LGBT organizations—the very same organizations that are part of a core strategy being used by the National AIDS Commission to address HIV in the country.  Millions of dollars have already been invested in these organizations, with most of it coming from USAID, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and other international donors—all for naught, it now seems.

What amazed me about the conference I attended was the attendees’ passion about developing one of the strongest AIDS responses in Africa. Speaker after speaker, as well as government dignitaries and activists in the audience, expressed their commitment to a coordinated and compassionate response to HIV in Nigeria. This new law is a complete slap in the face to those dignitaries, speakers, and activists, and a complete waste of donor aid monies already invested in a fragile HIV response. 

What is even more shocking is the lack of response from national leaders within the Nigerian health and human rights community. Global leaders, including  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Global Fund Executive Director Mark Dybul, and many others, have demanded justice and that the Nigerian Supreme Court strike down the law—as well as an explanation for the global AIDS funding that is being wasted. 

Where is the Nigerian leadership?

Trans Activism at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa

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Posted by Ben Clapham on January 8, 2014

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amfAR’s Ben Clapham (second from left) and GMT advocates promote sex workers’ rights at ICASA.

I recently spent a week in Cape Town, South Africa, with HIV activists and community workers from across Africa at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA). This conference saw a vast improvement in LBGTI activists’ ability to be seen and heard over the last ICASA, which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2011.  Addis Ababa proved to be a difficult and even dangerous place for LGBTI HIV activists to organize due to the conservative sociopolitical context in Ethiopia, where same-sex sexual conduct is illegal. The MSM pre-conference had to be moved to a secure UN building after protesters threatened to burn down the hotel where it was originally scheduled to take place. This year’s MSM pre-conference was flawlessly executed thanks to the more favorable sociopolitical context in South Africa, where discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal and same-sex marriage is legal.

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Protestors at ICASA demand that China contribute more to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

While attending the conference, I had the opportunity to meet with many trans sex workers and trans activists who explained that they felt that their voices were really being heard. A few trans activists presented oral presentations about the trans community’s HIV needs. Increasing visibility for trans activists is important anywhere in the world. However, in Africa there is little understanding of trans individuals and even less motivation or will to provide them with competent, stigma-free health services, making it especially essential that they can speak up about their needs and rights at ICASA.

Beyoncé, a trans activist from Uganda, said that ICASA this year was “very important for trans people to be heard, for our needs to be voiced, and for government and regional decision makers to better understand our community.” However, many activists stated that the number of posters and presentations submitted and accepted by LBGTI people was still lower than expected, even though they seemed to be more accepted in Cape Town than in Ethiopia. But the overall feeling at ICASA was definitely more positive and open. The opening ceremony even featured a trans singer from Angola—a clear sign that GMT issues are increasingly more visible in Africa.

The location of ICASA is an important factor in the ability of LGBTI HIV activists and community workers to organize, advocate, and protest. However, the next ICASA is currently slated to take place in Tunis, Tunisia, which, like Ethiopia, outlaws same-sex sexual activity, and where security concerns could again impede the GMT community’s visibility.