Today is the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia and Spectrum Uganda is marking it with a series of activities to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS issues among sexual minorities, to challenge stigma and homophobia, and to increase support to people living with HIV to lead productive lives.
Spectrum Uganda is holding discussions between health workers, the media and LGBTI organisations (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex), and providing HIV testing and counselling. It is specifically calling for increased HIV testing among sexual minority groups in Uganda.
According to Musa Kimbugwe, the Executive Director of Spectrum Uganda:
“This year’s celebration should be an inspiration for all to come forward to be tested for HIV/AIDS because many people in Uganda don’t know their HIV status. We encourage the community to take advantage of the team of doctors and other health workers who are ready to handle your health concerns; voluntary counselling and testing services are available.”
Referring to the “anti-gay bill” currently shelved in the Uganda parliament, Musa Kimbugwe noted:
“The consequences of the anti-homosexuality bill in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the LGBTI community are very serious, making people go underground and constraining health workers and other service providers. Spectrum Uganda only asks you to respect the human rights of all people including LGBTI people. We strongly appeal to government and members of parliament not to enact the anti-homosexuality Bill, and to move faster to include LGBTI people in the national health policy if we are to achieve zero HIV at all levels.”
Law enforcement is not currently providing the LGBTI community in Uganda with the same degree of protection as other members of society. Ever since the death of David Kato, the renowned sexuality rights activist, people continue to go into hiding with their activity clamped down by the politicians, assisted by the police.
It will take a while for the general population in Uganda to come to terms with the fact that LGBTI people exist in this country and deserve to be respected as individuals with their own rights. Many groups do not seem to accommodate or tolerate gay people or men who have sex with men in Uganda. These mainly include fundamental religious groups, African cultural conservatives who are a majority here and state agents like the police who openly challenge the activities of sexual minorities to prevent them from taking place.
The gravity of homophobia in Uganda is to such an extent that there is hostility even if one expresses an opinion in support of the LGBTI community. Had there not been pressure from the international community, the infamous anti-homosexuality bill would be a law by now.
“Through dialogue,” Musa said, “we want to empower healthcare workers and other policy makers to help bring about structural changes within the health sector to fully open up to the LGBTI community. Stigma and discrimination are not only rife in the general community of individuals living with HIV/AIDS but also within the LGBTI community itself. Discrimination and stigmatization of HIV positive people, or those suspected to be, poses a big challenge that hinder some people from going for testing and seeking treatment; sometimes it also reduces drug adherence.”
He continued: “As sexual minorities, we need to continuously remind our community that HIV/AIDS is still around and no cure has been found yet. We also need to share information and encourage ourselves in the fight against the disease.”