In Kenya, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are facing increasing discrimination. Here Dennis shares his story of dealing with stigma in health facilities and in his community.
In Kenya, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) are facing increasing stigma and discrimination. For those who live with HIV the stigma is doubled, especially in health facilities. Consequently, some LGBT people prefer to manage their healthcare through nutrition instead of visiting health facilities. Here Dennis (name changed) tells his story:
Dennis is a farmer, a man who has sex with men, and he is living with HIV. He says: “Stigma is rife in health facilities, and I only go to hospital for a refill of my antiretroviral medication. But I take responsibility for getting nutrition as a back-up for my health care. My cows produce enough milk for my consumption and I sell the surplus to my neighbours.”
Antiretroviral medicine allows people living with HIV to live long and productive lives, but must be taken consistently. Dennis understands this and adheres well to his medication to minimise the risk of succumbing to opportunistic infections. He advises LGBT people to pay more attention to their health than to stigma, whether in the health facilities or in the neighbourhood.
Dennis lives with his mother, who ensures he eats lots of fruit and vegetables, as good nutritional care is vital for antiretroviral medicine to be effective. But there are challenges living with his mother. Dennis says: “She doesn’t approve of my sexual orientation She uses the bible to discourage me, but I strongly believe that religion has nothing to do with this. Her persistence is annoying and feels like a violation of my freedom.”
Dennis has had a boyfriend for five years, and they always have protected sex. But he believes that many LGBT people shy away from hospitals for fear of ridicule and prejudice, and unless this discrimination and stigma is addressed new HIV infections are likely to increase.
Due to stigma in health facilities, there are some LGBT people who opt to go for food supplements as substitutes to antiretroviral medication. Dennis says: “Many LGBT people buy these products from the streets because the sellers are friendlier than workers in health facilities.” Though some of them are believed to work well with those whose immune system is functioning well, this will eventually present a major health risk.
Dennis believes unfriendly health workers are a major barrier to LGBT people accessing healthcare and sometimes fears the hostility he will face. However, he says: “Whether a nurse is kind or not, I need the health facility if not vice versa, which is why I am so fast to visit the clinic for my regular check-ups.”
Discrimination in the neighbourhood is rife and sometimes neighbours outright snub Dennis. This makes him withdrawn, something he says many LGBT people suffer. “I think criminalisation of same sex sexual relationships in Kenya makes people look at men who have sex with men as though they were criminals,” he says.
“I have a different sexual orientation, but I still work hard with my cows and to earn an honest living, as well as tending to my fruit trees and flowers. Nothing is different in me, I am not a criminal, I live an ordinary life.”
Kenya’s penal code criminalises same sex sexual relations, which attract a jail term of 14 years. Many LGBT people experience homophobic violence in Kenya, including ‘mob justice’ with claims of what people call “involvement in unnatural acts”. Dennis says: “Personally, I have been physically assaulted many times by people calling me gay.”
Sometimes workers at the hospital will associate the assault with being a member of the LGBT community. Dennis says: “Mostly LGBT people are the last to be served in health facilities, whatever their illness the nurses always associate it with them being LGBT.”
This needs to change. Together, let’s stop discrimination against LGBTI people, and help reduce HIV infections.
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