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Poking the homophobic beehive in Botswana

University of Botswana, gay news, Washington Blade

University of Botswana (Photo public domain)

By KATLEGO K KOL-KES

 

With Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe being vocal with their homophobia, it seems University of Botswana students have felt left out of the action. The newly formed LGBT society, UB-LEGABI has subsequently threatened politicians who would not support LGBT issues. This is a drastic move in a country with an antiquated colonial anti-sodomy law. This new campaign has poked the proverbial homophobic beehive on a national level, especially as it’s an election year.

Last year, I debated the chair of the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana on national radio after it employed similar bullying tactics. They warned politicians that it was the EFB’s duty to protect the moral fiber of the “Christian community,” therefore they would de-campaign anyone who supports what they call “gay rights.” Needless to say, the EFB chair’s citations of the Bible were met with well-informed retorts, proving that you don’t pick fights with people you underestimate.

Last year saw a surge in sensationalising homosexuality in Botswana. Each week brought a new “gay” headline, including a rumoured bill to register and imprison suspected homosexuals and sex workers to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. What the UB-LEGABI committee has done with this tirade is enable the homophobes rather than boost any LGBT rights defences. They’ve declared war before understanding the battlegrounds.

Reading through the Facebook responses to the article published in the tabloid newspaper, The Voice, the roots of the homophobic comments are evident: religious bias, masculine insecurity and uninformed notions of homosexuality.

The (unedited) comments included statements like: “wats the use of gays and lesbians, if they cant make babies?”; “why must they force people to accept their lifestyle! this aint America…”; “B4 they come wth their stupid threats, they must b sure of 1 thing “WHETHER THEY ARE MALES OR FEMALES.” Some even blame gays for the lack of rain in southern Botswana, a country that is 80 percent desert.

The greatest shock comes when you read comments calling presidents like Robert Mugabe, Goodluck Jonathan and Yoweri Museveni to Botswana to instill laws like Uganda’s recent measure. Museveni’s declaration that the west is promoting homosexuality in Africa goes to show how uninformed, and religiously blinded, some of our leaders are.

This begs the questions: Is Western intervention in internal affairs worsening the situation? Are U.S. warnings to cut off aid simply making life more laborious for LGBT activists in these countries?

The homophobes fail to understand the far-reaching effects of such legislation as Museveni’s because of their obsession with the act of gay sex. Unfortunately, lesbians are sidelined in the conversation on homosexual acts. Some comments referred to two bearded men kissing, and “how can a man sweat to provide for another man?”

Statements such as these prove that the nation is in dire need of education on the nature of homosexuality before expecting citizens to support threats to de-campaign people they see as their protectors. The plethora of closed-minded comments that acknowledge homosexuality slows population growth, or that this will mark Jesus’ cue to return has made it seem, to the homophobes in Botswana, that they are not alone nor wrong for such ignorant thoughts.

The hive was poked, but of the 467 comments fewer than 10 were in defense of LGBT rights. There isn’t a visible united front of LGBT rights defenders. This only fuels the misconceptions such as Tshenolo Makakeng’s that: “There are less than 60 (which are mostly at UB) gays in Bots.” We must put facts before fury.

What’s been made evident is that we’re growing too impatient with the community we want to “accept” us. National acknowledgement of LGBT existence would suffice because it sets enough of a precedent for educating the laymen. It seems LGBT movements around the world have forgotten the baby steps that have led to U.S. victories over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. It may seem as though background work is dormancy but it’s as important as making grand threats against politicians in an election year. Smoke works better on bees than sticks and stones.

Katlego K Kol-Kes is a writer and activist based in Gaborone, Botswana. She has recently begun covering Botswana LGBT life and has contributed to Afropunk’s Gender Bent blog. Follow her on Twitter.

04
Mar
2014

Name change for AIDS Walk

AIDS Walk, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Mitchell Gold, Bob Williams and Joe Izzo march in the 2013 AIDS Walk. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health this week announced a name change for its annual AIDS Walk held in October. Beginning this year, the event will be known as “The Walk to End HIV,” to reflect the progress made in combating HIV/AIDS.

The 28th annual event is scheduled for Oct. 25 in D.C. The name change is being touted by Whitman-Walker as the first such change in the country and the announcement was timed to coincide with National HIV Testing Day, held June 27.

Whitman-Walker’s executive director Don Blanchon is scheduled to officially announce the change at an event on June 26.

25
Jun
2014

Re-elect Jim Graham for Ward One Council

Jim Graham, D.C. Council, District of Columbia, Ward One, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) (Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

By ALAN ROTH

LGBTQ voters in Ward One have a profound choice to make in the April 1 primary. That’s because when a new D.C. Council is sworn in next January, it will lack an openly gay Council member for the first time in nearly 18 years — unless Jim Graham is re-elected.

With Jim being challenged by someone who has no real record or experience beyond the narrow boundaries of her former ANC single member district, and with David Catania giving up his at-large seat to run for mayor, now is the time for LGBTQ voters in the Ward to focus seriously on an old political adage: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Simply put, that adage reminds us there is no substitute for being represented by one of our own — someone who, like Jim Graham, has lived what we have lived, experienced what we have experienced, and will never allow those personal life lessons to be cast aside for reasons of political expediency.

It also means that if we aren’t “at the table” as part of the decision making process, other politicians with other constituencies to serve are liable to be carving up our interests like a Thanksgiving turkey when the hard decisions (like funding for programs essential to our community) have to be made.

Earlier this year, the Advocate named D.C. the gayest city in America. It’s therefore difficult to imagine a D.C. Council without a single LGBT Council member — someone with whom we would be able to have open, honest discussions about our issues and concerns when they arise.

Before his election to the Council, Jim led the Whitman-Walker Clinic for more than 15 years, providing HIV/AIDS-related, STD, and other health services when few others would. On the Council, he has obviously been a leader on LGBTQ issues. His knowledge, understanding and support of our community’s concerns is not only unquestioned, it is unparalleled.

As a former Adams Morgan ANC member and chair, I can attest personally to Jim’s devotion to his Ward and his commitment to providing the best constituent service in the Wilson Building. By contrast, most of what we’ve heard from Jim’s opponent turns primarily on innuendo and negativity.

So let me confront the “ethics issue” head on, because I know it’s on some people’s minds, and let’s begin here: After more than two years of public discussion and Post editorializing, no prosecutor has ever charged Jim with any crime; the one civil lawsuit filed against him was dismissed; and not even his opponent has alleged that a penny of public or private money has found its way into his pockets.

If you’ve actually read the reports of the Ethics Board and the Cadwalader law firm hired by WMATA, you could well conclude, as I have, that Jim in fact had the best interests of his Ward One constituents at heart when he questioned a certain bidder’s interest in developing the Florida Avenue Metro property involved in the most serious allegations against him.

Cadwalader’s report said many of Jim’s objections to the bidder and one of its principals “appear to have been based on legitimate concerns with public safety and welfare. For example, Graham was concerned with [that principal’s] reputation as a landlord as well as his ownership of a club in Ward 1 that had lost its license to operate due to a fatal stabbing of a club patron.  Moreover, Council member Graham appeared genuinely concerned throughout the joint development process with the development experience and expertise of [this bidder] – legitimate concerns that manifested themselves in the outcome of the process.”

Perhaps there were better ways to go about all this. Still, I don’t have any doubt that Jim’s intent was to protect his Ward. Did he do it to benefit himself personally? The Cadwalader report certainly found no evidence of that.

It’s time for us to move on. Let’s focus on what’s best for Ward One and D.C.’s LGBTQ community over the next four years. Keeping our strongest representative on the D.C. Council by re-electing Jim Graham certainly beats being listed “on the menu” by relying on the platitudes and innuendo of an ambitious wannabe.

Alan Roth is a former chair of the Adams Morgan ANC, a current member of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority board of directors, a member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and a member of Friends of Vernon Street.

28
Mar
2014

Bill Clinton: AIDS-free generation ‘over the horizon’

Bill Clinton, International AIDS Conference, IAC, gay news, Washington Blade

President Bill Clinton spoke at the International AIDS Conference on Wednesday. (Photo by Steve Forrest; courtesy International AIDS Society)

Editor’s note: The Star Observer, an Australian LGBT newspaper, continues to provide the Washington Blade coverage of the 2014 International AIDS Conference from Melbourne, Australia.

Bill Clinton has told a gathering at the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne today that an AIDS-free generation is not far away.

The former U.S. president was the guest speaker at a special session focusing on the current state of treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS, as well as the work that still needs to be done.

His context was mainly in Africa and South East Asia, where HIV and AIDS is not just prevalent in gay populations, and where his charity organization the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) has done work to improve access to treatment and monitoring of HIV and AIDS.

Shortly after Clinton began his speech, he was interrupted by a small group of protesters who made their way down the front of the auditorium, chanting “Clinton end AIDS with the Robin Hood tax.”

The tax refers to a levy on stock trades to help fund the fight against HIV and AIDS, and a session on the Robin Hood tax is part of the AIDS 2014 line-up.

Clinton remained calm during the protest, letting them have their say and security did not interrupt.

The former president then asked the audience, “have you got the message?” while the protesters continued chanting. He then said: “give them a hand and ask them to let the rest of us talk”, to which the protesters made their way back to their seats.

Clinton continued his speech, first honoring the victims of flight MH17, in particular the AIDS 2014 delegates who were on board.

“There’s been a lot of understandable honor paid to the colleagues we lost in the airplane crash and I would like to begin by trying to put their lives in the context of this work and the larger struggle abroad in the worlds of AIDS,” he said.

He went on to say how everyone is born as part world where people are interdependent on each other for a common good.

“The loss of our colleagues and more than 290 others in what appears to have been a deliberate act is a stark reflection on the negative forces of our interdependence,” he said.

Clinton then went on to talk mainly about the state of HIV and AIDS in the world, and the role CHAI has played in making a difference in many parts of the world.

He said two million people are infected with HIV every year, which includes 20,000 children per month, and new data from 51 countries indicates that 70 per cent of AIDS-related deaths could have been prevented.

He highlighted how growing evidence has shown that early treatment helps prevent further HIV transmission, and stressed that achievements made in the fight against AIDS in the past three decades should not be an excuse for people to become complacent.

“The AIDS-free world that so many of you have worked to build is just over the horizon. We just need to step up the pace,” he said. “We are on a steady march to rid the world of AIDS… we have the ability to see this effort through to end.”

Elias Jahshan is the editor of the Star Observer. The link to his original story is here.

24
Jul
2014

Gay juror removed from AIDS drug trial

gay juror, National LGBT Bar Association, Gay News, Washington Blade

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco court ruled last week that a case against an AIDS drug company will get a new trial after it was determined that the company improperly excluded a gay man from the jury, Bloomberg reports.

In 2011, an Oakland jury ordered Abbott Laboratories to pay GlaxoSmithKline $3.5 million for breaching a drug agreement, though Abbott was cleared of charges that it sought to stifle competition over HIV drugs when it quadrupled the price of the drug Norvir in 2003, the article said.

The judge overseeing the trial permitted the exclusion during jury selection when Abbott exercised its right to keep certain individuals off the jury. When questioned, the man said he had a male partner and had lost friends to AIDS, Bloomberg reports.

“Permitting a strike based on sexual orientation could send the false message that gays and lesbians could not be trusted to reason fairly on issues of great import to the community or the nation,” a three-judge appellate panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals wrote last week.

30
Jan
2014

Uganda police: HIV/AIDS group ran ‘homosexual recruitment project’

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni in February signed into law a bill that imposes harsh sentences on LGBT Ugandans. (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

The Washington Blade has obtained a leaked Ugandan police report that says a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS service organization recruited teenage boys and young men “into homosexual practices.”

The report states it received information on March 15 that there was “ongoing recruitment of youths aged between 15-25 years and training them into homosexual practices” by the management of the Makerere University Walter Reed Project in Kampala, the country’s capital.

Det. Sgt. Mfitundinda Edward of the Uganda Police Force wrote in his report the “conditions of recruitment” were a “male has to produce or come with a fellow man as a partner for homosexual to be recruited and trained.”

Mfitundinda wrote “recruited partners” were shown pornography as “a teaching package.” They were also given booklets that contained information on sexual health care for men who have sex with men, male condoms and lubrication for “anal sexual play.”

The report further noted several rooms at the “recruiting centers” for “treating sick ones, practicing homosexual, masturbation and collection of sperms in small bottles.” Mfitundinda wrote the sperm samples were reportedly sent to a Kampala hospital.

“U.S. government is sponsoring the research on HIV, Makerere University Walker Reed Project, which is also recruiting homosexuals,” reads the report. “Homosexual recruitment project is a new project within the Walter Reed Project and has taken so far a period of approximately one year and a half.”

Mfitundinda wrote the report on April 8, five days after police raided the organization’s Kampala offices and took one staffer into custody.

The Makerere University Walter Reed Project has conducted HIV research in the East African country since 1998. The organization seven years later began offering prevention, care and treatment programs with funds it received from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

“We are deeply concerned that a U.S.-funded health clinic and medical research facility, the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), was raided by Ugandan authorities on April 3, leading to the arrest of one of the facility’s employees, allegedly for conducting ‘unethical research’ and ‘recruiting homosexuals,’” said Marie Harf, a spokesperson for the State Department, after the raid.

Ofwono Opondo, a spokesperson for the Ugandan government, said a day after the raid that Makerere University Walter Reed Project staffers were “training youths in homosexuality.”

The incident took place roughly six weeks after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The U.S. as a result of Museveni signing the measure suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university. A CDC agreement that funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s response to the epidemic expired at the end of February.

The World Bank postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that had been earmarked to bolster its health care system after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. BuzzFeed reported on Tuesday a group of consultants the bank hired to study the issue are slated to recommend that Kampala should receive the funds.

Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight the epidemic. The East African country in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.

A spokesperson for the Makerere University Walter Reed Project told the Washington Blade after the April 3 raid the organization’s programs were “temporarily suspended to ensure the safety of staff and the integrity of the program.” Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation said during an interview from Kampala after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that his group also had to close.

“The community is very scared, very worried,” Dickson told the Blade. “They’re underground.”

23
Apr
2014

Young gay Aussie men avoiding HIV tests

Sydney Opera House, Australia, gay news, Washington Blade, avoiding

Health professionals in Australia have raised concerns about a 65 percent increase in the number of men aged 18-24 newly diagnosed in the country’s New South Wales region. (Photo by David Iliff; courtesy Wikimedia Commons. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)

SYDNEY — A new report from Australia finds that about one-third of young gay men there are avoiding getting tested for HIV and other STIs despite the fact that they are increasingly likely to have had unprotected sex with casual partners, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Health professionals there have raised concerns about a 65 percent increase in the number of men aged 18-24 newly diagnosed in the country’s New South Wales region between 2009-12, the article said.

Medical bodies and community groups have responded by taking testing to the streets in a bid to encourage more young men to find out their HIV status.

Health officials speculate that about a quarter of the young men diagnosed had simply not been exposed to prevention campaigns.

05
Mar
2014

Anti-gay laws have public health impact: study

India, Mahatma Gandhi, gay, homosexuality, sodomy, gay news, Washington Blade, Supreme Court of India

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NEW YORK — Recent anti-homosexuality laws don’t just violate human rights—they might worsen the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist warns in a PLOS Medicine essay published this week, Newsweek and other news outlets report.

While many countries and communities are expanding civil rights to the LGBT community, such as marriage equality, some nations including Nigeria, Uganda, Russia and India are criminalizing homosexuality or intensifying present anti-gay statutes. More nations are poised to follow, putting public health initiatives at risk, Dr. Chris Beyrer writes in “Pushback: The Current Wave of Anti-Homosexuality Laws and Impacts on Health.”

“These laws and policies make it much more difficult to provide HIV services particularly gay and bisexual men who have sex with men, who really need these services,” Beyrer told Newsweek. “It can definitely lead to a worsening of the HIV epidemic in these countries.”

For example in Nigeria, where homosexuality has long been illegal, the new Same Sex Prohibition Act limits free speech and assembly. Advocates say this might push the LGBT community and its allies deeper underground, meaning these persons won’t seek HIV-prevention or -treatment services. The law, which President Goodluck Jonathan signed on January 13, has the potential to be especially damaging to the country that now reels from the second largest HIV epidemic in the world, Beyrer writes.

In Russia, a 2013 law banning “homosexual propaganda” has also thwarted prevention efforts there. An HIV testing and counseling clinic in Moscow, with which Beyer collaborated, closed this past fall because clients and clinicians felt unsafe, he says

26
Jun
2014

Make a safer selfie during sex

condoms, gay news, Washington Blade

If a condom appears intact after use, you’ve lowered by 125,000 times your chance of contracting HIV.

These days, everything is about the selfie. We listen to our personalized music playlists on our phones, binge-watch entire seasons of our favorite program on demand and target our social media shout outs to specific people on our friends list.

So it’s no surprise that you can now customize your strategy for staying safe from HIV. Here’s the new menu of choices for staying safe. Create your safer selfie.

Condoms:  Lots of guys use condoms when they hook up with someone who looks like he gets around, but then skip the rubbers when they meet a “quality” guy.  Even quality guys may have had playful pasts, and many are telling the truth when they say they don’t think that they’re infected — even though they haven’t tested in years. So how well do condoms protect you?

Best case: If a condom appears intact after use, you’ve lowered by 125,000 times your chance of contracting HIV. Condoms also offer this undeniable benefit: you can check to see if the other guy is really wearing one right now.

No guarantees: Condoms only work when someone is wearing them. Gay guys who claim to use condoms all the time reduced their HIV risks by 70 percent. Rule out the guys who seem to be forgetting the nights they skipped the condoms, and protection is much higher. Condoms break or slip off in as few as 0.4 to 0.6 percent of uses, and that’s because these numbers include the people who fumble with them drunk or use wildly inappropriate lubricants. Still, if you just can’t stand using condoms, there are other choices.

PrEP: Never heard of it? You will. With PrEP, an HIV-negative guy takes the anti-HIV combination medicine that people living with HIV take. The difference is that he takes it every day before a possible exposure to HIV.  That’s the “pre” in PrEP.

Best case: PrEP can offer almost complete protection from an HIV exposure. In the largest studies conducted, none of the guys who took at least most of their PrEP medications became infected. PrEP does take advance planning, though. You can’t start taking PrEP the day you’re planning to have sex (it takes about a week to build up in the body).

No guarantees: Truth is, in the largest PrEP study, new HIV infections were only reduced by 44 percent, mainly because some people who said they were going to start PrEP never did, or they only took a few of their pills.  So just like condoms, you have to use it to get the benefits.

Treatment as Prevention: If your HIV+ partner is taking anti-HIV medications, that helps him and protects you. Less virus in his bloodstream makes him far less contagious. The first large study said that the risk of catching HIV from a treated person drops 96 percent.

Best case: taking anti-HIV treatment is something many positive guys are already doing.

No guarantees: there’s no way to see if the other guy is taking his treatment the way you could check for a condom. Once they’re off the meds, the drugs start draining out of their system, and that means you’re not protected anymore.

Test twice, Talk, and Trust: This is not the same as only hooking up with guys you think are HIV-negative. Here, you take an HIV test with your partner, and discuss whether you’re both comfortable having a “closed” relationship (or open only with protection).  If you both are, you test again to confirm neither had a new HIV infection that the first test missed, and then you may choose to take the condoms off.

Best case: Many guys have been using this strategy for years (including me), and it appears to work for those who follow all the steps.

No guarantees: If you do allow “playing,” remember that condoms protect better against HIV than against some other STDs that are easier to transmit.

PEP:  Whichever safer selfie method you choose, if something goes wrong and you realize you’ve been exposed to HIV, there’s one more option. If you get on a six-week prescription of anti-HIV medicines right away (“post-exposure”), you can often stop the virus from “latching on.”

Best case: Officially, you have 72 hours to start treatment, and your odds of becoming HIV+ drop by about three-quarters.

No guarantees: Don’t take the deadline too literally, and wait the whole weekend. The same studies show that the earlier you start PEP, the better the protection.

Why choose any option?  Maybe you just don’t consider staying HIV-free that important anymore. If and when you catch it, you’ll just take a pill a day, and live forever. Well, you’re not entirely wrong, but there’s more to it than that.

Best case: If keep to your doctor’s appointments and take your medicines faithfully, you can live a long life these days with HIV. Some studies predict that people can live with HIV for three or four decades, or even up to 53 years.

No guarantees: HIV treatments still cause side effects, from the unpleasant and common ones (diarrhea, fatigue, sleeplessness) to the silent bodily changes that can add up over time to cause other serious health problems in some people to trigger cardiac events, kidney failure, liver failure, and bone fractures.

Whichever safer option you choose, the best thing you can do is just to make a choice.  Condomless sex is up 20 percent among gay men over the past five years. HIV is still causing the equivalent of five 9-11s in U.S. deaths each year. Almost all new HIV infections are happening to guys who aren’t following any of these strategies. So pick one, stick to it, and make a safer selfie.

Stephen Fallon is president of Skills4, a healthcare consulting firm. Reach him via skills4.org.

01
Apr
2014

Dance festival raises $533,000 for AIDS fight

Fire Island, gay news, Washington Blade

The beach in Fire Island Pines, N.Y. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

FIRE ISLAND PINES, N.Y. — The annual Fire Island Dance Festival last weekend raised more than half a million dollars for the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The 20th annual event, which took place on New York’s Fire Island on July 18-20, raised $533,860 for Dancers Responding to AIDS. The dance festival featured nearly 50 professional dancers during multiple performances, according to its website.

“At moments like this, we must take time to remember all the talent, creativity and friendships we’ve lost, while celebrating the progress we’ve made and the opportunities we have to make a difference for those who need our help the most,” said Denise Roberts Hurlin, founding director of Dancers Responding to AIDS.

24
Jul
2014