Homophobia Hinders HIV Prevention Efforts in Africa

Joel Nana, Samuel Matsikure, Paul Semugoma and Evelyn TomaszewskiJoel Nana of the African Men for Health and Sexual Rights, Samuel Matsikure of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, Ugandan activist Paul Semugoma and Evelyn Tomaszewski of NASW took part in a May Capitol Hill briefing for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

While social and political acceptance of the LGBT community have made great strides in the U.S. and some other countries, members of this group continue to face substantial discrimination elsewhere.

Dr. Paul Semugoma, a physician and HIV and LGBT activist in Uganda, said addressing homophobia in his country is vital to promoting successful HIV prevention efforts.

The U.S. is the most important donor in his country’s attempts to address HIV prevention, he said. However, because homophobia is so prevalent in Uganda, its government will not target HIV prevention directly to men who have sex with men, or MSM, he said.

“Programs like PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) have to demand for accountability in that direction to ensure that the demands of HIV prevention are actually met,” Semugoma said.

He took part in a Capitol Hill briefing May 17 marking the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

“It was a great opportunity to talk to a fairly friendly audience of the challenges faced back home in our own countries,” Semugoma said after the briefing. “It is important to know that this kind of reception is hard to replicate in Africa, for various reasons, (both) political and social.”

Semugoma was part of the steering committee representing the Global Forum on MSM & HIV at the briefing.

Other steering committee members in attendance were Samuel Matsikure, program manager for Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe and coordinator for the Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities in Southern Africa-Zimbabwe, and Joel Gustave Nana, executive director of the African Men for Sexual Health Rights based in South Africa.

Evelyn Tomaszewski, an NASW senior policy associate, moderated the discussion, which addressed the effect of homophobia on HIV prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean.

Tomaszewski said committee members expressed a need to educate and work for change at the government level to help break down the walls of homophobia.

“Today’s briefing reminds us that we are all part of the necessary efforts to ensure civil and human rights for all persons in our communities,” she said.

Congressional LGBT Equity Caucus co-chairs collaborated on the event.

In addition, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement on International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, mirroring sentiments voiced at the briefing.

“Homophobia, transphobia and the brutal hostility associated with them are often rooted in a lack of understanding of what it actually means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender,” Clinton stated.

Clinton added that on behalf of President Barack Obama and the people of the U.S., “I am proud to reaffirm our support for LGBT communities at home and abroad, and to call for an end to discrimination and mistreatment of LGBT persons wherever it occurs. ... We are committed to our friends and allies in every region of the world who are fighting for equality and justice.”

Learn more about the Global Forum of MSM & HIV.