AS MEN WHO HAVE SEX WITH MEN (MSM) CONTINUE TO BE PERSECUTED IN MANY COUNTRIES, AMFAR’S MSM INITIATIVE BOOSTS HIV/AIDS AWARENESS, PREVENTION, TESTING, AND TREATMENT EFFORTS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Cub Barrett, Program Communications Manager
NEW YORK, May 17, 2011—As organizations around the world today commemorate International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), amfAR’s MSM Initiative is boosting the efforts of 18 grassroots groups throughout the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia to help them combat homophobia and its effects on the HIV/AIDS epidemic among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and other men who have sex with men (MSM).
The nine Caribbean and nine Eastern Europe and Central Asian awards, which will provide HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, testing, and treatment services to front-line groups working with MSM, range from more than $9,600 to $20,000, totaling nearly $430,000. Caribbean regional awards were made possible by contributions from the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and awards in Eastern Europe and Central Asia were made possible by contributions from the Austrian organization AIDS LIFE. Additionally, amfAR today released a request for proposals for a new round of MSM Initiative awards targeting organizations in Latin America.
The link between homophobia, stigma, and HIV/AIDS is inextricable. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where gay men, other MSM, and transgender people are often stigmatized and heavily discriminated against, it has been difficult to gain an accurate picture of the scope of the epidemic among MSM—and to identify MSM who are in need of education about prevention and treatment.
And in the Caribbean, which has long been one of the world’s most homophobic regions, many MSM community organizers and MSM community members must remain underground for fear of intimidation and violence. This directly impedes an effective response to the epidemic, even as it fuels it.
“Homophobic violence and rhetoric profoundly influence the HIV/AIDS epidemic by marginalizing MSM, who are highly vulnerable to HIV infection and who often have limited access to prevention and treatment resources,” said Kent Klindera, program director for amfAR’s MSM Initiative. “Grants awarded through amfAR’s MSM Initiative seek to support local communities in their efforts to confront homophobia and reduce the number of new HIV infections.”
In the Caribbean, recipient groups include an organization in Belize City, Belize, that will help the families of young MSM learn to accept their MSM relatives and learn about MSM sexual health; a group in Jamaica that will create a virtual safe space for young MSM and other LGBT youth to help them handle homophobia and learn about sexual health; and a group in St. Lucia—where in March three gay American tourists were assaulted—aimed at empowering influential LGBT community leaders and other MSM to become peer educators for self-esteem and HIV prevention.
In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, a group in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan will document human rights violations and hate crimes against MSM and LGBT people, producing an annual report to be used as an advocacy tool. Another group in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, will focus on providing social support and HIV counseling and testing services for MSM and LGBT people.
“By helping these groups confront and hopefully stop homophobia, we’re helping them change the course of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in their countries and regions,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. “We believe this is more than just a health issue; it’s a human rights issue, because MSM and all vulnerable groups have the right to live free from fear and to safely access services that protect their health in the face of HIV/AIDS.”
Since its launch in July 2007, amfAR’s MSM Initiative has made 141 community awards totaling more than US$2.5 million to support 104 front-line organizations serving MSM in 64 countries. Awards have been made in low- and middle-income countries in five regions of the world: Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe/Central Asia, and Latin America.
The need for such work is vital: A 2007 analysis of data from 38 low- and middle-income countries showed that MSM are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population. These rates are consistent across the globe, even in African nations that have generalized epidemics. Yet according to United Nations estimates, by late 2007, a mere eight percent of MSM had been reached by comprehensive HIV prevention programs.
“We hope more governments and countries recognize the deadly link between homophobia and HIV/AIDS, and the International Day Against Homophobia is important in focusing their attention on the homophobic climates that imperil the lives of so many MSM,” Klindera said.