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).

Regional Collaboration in the Asia Pacific

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Posted by Lucile Scott on October 24, 2013

In Thailand, where the HIV rate among the general population is 1.1%, prevalence among MSM increased from 17% in 2003 to 29% in 2011—one of the highest rates among GMT in the world. But Thailand is also a nation where GMT face less discrimination and stigma than in other countries in the region, making it an ideal home  for several organizations dedicated to finding the most innovative and effective responses to HIV among GMT, not only in Thailand, but across the Asia Pacific.

“In Bangkok you are free to be who you are, but MSM are not the government’s priority,” says Midnight Poonkasetwattana, Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM), which is headquartered in Bangkok. APCOM and its partners plan to use their collective voice to change that and create the political will to better respond to HIV among GMT region-wide.

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Dr. Nicolas Durier, research director at TREAT Asia, and Dr. Nittaya Phanuphak Pungpapng, deputy director of the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Center, discuss their program to better treat HPV in HIV positive GMT in Asia.

Another Bangkok-based organization, the Purple Sky Network (PSN), brings together national organizations fighting HIV among GMT in Asia’s Greater Mekong Sub-region—consisting of Cambodia, China’s Guangxi and Yunnan provinces, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand. PSN was created in 2006 with amfAR support and was formerly based at amfAR’s TREAT Asia offices. “At the time, only Thailand already had a strong national GMT network,” says Rapeepun (Ohm) Jommaroeng, Executive Director of PSN. “TREAT Asia helped formulate and strengthen technical working groups in the rest of the countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region and eventually helped establish the Purple Sky Network.”

Through this collaboration, PSN helps improve on-the-ground HIV programming for GMT in each member country. “Having a sub-regional platform helps countries in the same region with similar HIV situations to learn from each other in-depth,” says Ohm. It also strengthens partnerships among government agencies, community organizations, and international non-governmental organizations working in the area.

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Midnight Poonkasetwattana at APCOM’s Bangkok offices.

APCOM brings together sub-regional networks like PSN and country-level GMT organizations to amplify the regional GMT voice even more. “Sometimes it is very hard to advocate at a country level, especially if you might be criminalized,” says Midnight. “A regional network can do that without fear of repercussion on a country level.” He adds that regional grants can also help provide for GMT programming in countries including Pakistan, Malaysia, and Afghanistan, where, due to national regulations and cultural conditions, it might not otherwise exist.

Additionally, APCOM studies the best HIV-related practices in each country and uses that collaborative knowledge and voice to impact policy and funding decisions made by international organizations. “We had a meeting last week with WHO and UNAIDS about community-based testing,” says Midnight. “We did a case study looking at things that were already happening at the country level that could be great resources to other countries, and we said, ‘Look at this.’”

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The entrance to the Men’s Health Clinic at the Thai Red Cross.

Organizations like the Thai Red Cross and the HIV Netherlands Australia Thailand Research Collaboration (HIV-NAT) are working to improve the quality of medical treatment HIV-positive GMT receive across the region. For instance, the Thai Red Cross is currently using amfAR funding to improve screenings and treatment of precancerous HPV lesions found in GMT—which their study shows HIV-positive GMT are twice as likely to have as HIV-negative GMT—and to then provide clinicians in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia with that knowledge and with the equipment they need to use it.

“No government, organization, or agency can end HIV among GMT on their own,” says Midnight. “So much has happened in our region already, and it is time to double and triple our efforts, or we’ll miss this opportunity for a comprehensive regional response. The rates are already particularly high in Thailand.”

Gay Pride in Kazakhstan

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Posted by Lucile Scott on October 7, 2013

Last weekend, GMT Initiative grantee partner Azimut Plus held a Day of Gay Pride in a park in Temirtau, Kazakhstan. LGBT in Kazakhstan are frequently subjected to discrimination and violence, and this week, days after the event, members of Kazakhstan’s parliament called for the government to close all gay clubs and prohibit LGBT from holding or advertising events. Azimut Plus informed many members of the LGBT community about the Day of Gay Pride in advance, but most declined to attend. Seven people did choose to participate, and their public acknowledgment and celebration of their sexuality is a bold statement and a milestone in the fight for gay rights in the country. The group engaged passers- by in conversation and passed out literature and mugs. They also attracted attention from one news crew. Below are quotes from participants and photos from the day.

“I wanted to create an organization that would protect the LGBT community. Its members should not be afraid to be who they are, as was the case today. People have to understand that we are just like everyone else and can be useful in society.”— Denis Kakorin, member of Azimut Plus

“Once I wrote a neighbor on the internet and told him that I loved him. He put it on his blog. Of course, the whole school immediately recognized that it was me. Some stopped talking to me, but a minority. Most did not turn away, and did not even have to discuss it with me, and we continue to be friends.”—Sergei Prokfiev, age 19

 “Some people have been beaten and killed and it’s scary. Society is cruel, but it is from a low level of education. Before we hosted this event, we conducted a poll and found that society in general is not aggressive towards us. Of course, someone said that we need to be killed, burned, and cut, and that we are not worthy to live. But the fear of telling people about yourself is fraught with serious consequences. Some try to drown these feelings with alcohol or drugs. Some kill themselves.”—Denis Kakorin

“In our country, all over the place, they speak of tolerance. How beautiful it sounds. We want everyone to be tolerant, but maybe everyone should start with themselves.”—Sergei Frolov, sociologist


Participants in the Day of Gay Pride blow up rainbow colored balloons.

A man takes literature and an Azimut Plus mug from a box during the event.

Fliers and mugs were handed to passers-by.

Participants and passers-by stand in a circle and talk.

A news crew interviews one participant.

At the end of the day, the participants launch their rainbow balloons into the sky.