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Bay Area Reporter
Global HIV/AIDS leaders meet in SF, Oakland
<p>Heather Cassell</p>
April 25, 2013

More than 20 HIV/AIDS experts in the global movement fight against HIV/AIDS gathered for a series of meetings in the Bay Area last week.

Hosted by the Global Forum on MSM and HIV, officials who attended a panel discussion in San Francisco and a reception in Oakland represented Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Russia. They discussed the rising rates of AIDS among men who have sex with men and transgender individuals around the world.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among MSM is as high as 25 percent in the Caribbean, 18 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 15 percent in Latin America and South Asia, according to recent research provided by the Global Forum.

The HIV battle locally to globally

Recognizing an alarming trend, the leaders announced they have joined in a consortium to form a "unified front against HIV to protect the health and human rights of MSM worldwide."

The consortium is made up of representatives from the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health, the African Men for Sexual Health and Rights, Asociacion para la Salud Integral y Ciudadania en America Latina y el Caribe, the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, the European Coalition on Male Health, and the Global Forum.

"HIV among MSM and transgender people is driven by a combination of powerful forces, including stigma, discrimination, and severe underfunding of targeted research and programs for these populations. This is true in high- and low-income countries alike," said George Ayala, Psy.D., executive director of the Global Forum.

"People working in our communities across high- and low-income countries must come together to advocate for a targeted response to HIV among MSM and transgender people that is proportionate to our disease burden," Ayala said. "It will take all of our collective strength to stop this epidemic and we must listen to each other respectfully and work together productively to make it happen."

Global HIV experts believe that due to a pattern of rapidly increasing HIV rates among MSM that it's important to refocus the HIV/AIDS battle back onto queer men.

More than 70 countries around the world criminalize homosexuality. The discrimination, stigma, and violence against MSM are significant factors in the rapid transmission of HIV among this population as well as transgender individuals, the experts believe.

In China, the prevalence of HIV in the general population is constant and low, but among MSM the epidemic has been "increasing rapidly," said Fei Yu, an HIV prevention expert for Chengdu Tongle Health Counseling Service Center in Chengdu, Sichuan, China.

The prevalence of HIV among MSM in China is "around 5 percent, which was exponentially higher than the general public, even much higher than female sex workers and injected drug users," said Fei, citing statistics from 2008.

LGBT rights is a sensitive issue in China and can only be addressed openly by promoting needs instead of rights, Fei said.

"That's why Chinese LGBT movements are tightly bonded with HIV/AIDS prevention, which tends to be the only matching point with the government," said Fei.

In Zimbabwe, it's a similar story about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among the general population. Rates have dropped to 14.3 percent in general from the country's high of 25 percent, said Samuel "Sam" Matsikure, program manager of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe.

"Because it's a generalized epidemic we've made strides in reducing our HIV," said Matsikure, who is also a coordinator for the Prevention and Research Initiative for Sexual Minorities in Southern Africa-Zimbabwe.

Matsikure, a 40-year-old gay man, has worked for GALZ since its inception more than 20 years ago. He said that a health report released by the Zimbabwe government in 2011 stated that prevalence of HIV rates among MSM in the country was 4 percent, but he said he couldn't verify the statistic.

In Zimbabwe, like other countries, minorities are invisible and "remain insignificant in the way they are addressed in the HIV arena," he said. "We don't have specific programs provided for LGBTI communities, sex workers" and "other minority groups."

Matsikure is hopeful with the passage of Zimbabwe's new constitution, which includes a sweeping general human rights law, and forthcoming elections, that the situation for LGBT individuals in the African nation will improve.

Alvan Quamina, Ph.D., executive director of the AIDS Project East Bay, agreed.

"We must acknowledge that the HIV epidemic among MSM in the U.S. is part of the global epidemic among MSM," said Quamina in a Global Forum news release April 22. "HIV rates are soaring in our communities here and around the world, and we are all working with extremely constrained resources to address one of this generation's most difficult challenges. We must start talking to each other and work together as fellow members of a global community."

Lee, a longtime HIV and LGBT rights advocate, couldn't agree more. She praised the officials for their efforts during a keynote speech at the reception that attracted more than 50 people to the Global Forum's offices in downtown Oakland. Guests were able to mingle with the global HIV/AIDS and LGBT experts and learn more about their work one-on-one.

"I am proud of the work of the MSMGF and its efforts to support global LGBT communities by combating discrimination, marginalization, stigma, and homophobia," said Lee, who is also the vice chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

She vowed that she will "continue to fight to ensure that the needs of local and global marginalized communities, who are frequently on the frontlines of the HIV/AIDS pandemic are addressed through our HIV/AIDS programs."

Lee, a straight ally, has long been a supporter of efforts to eradicate HIV/AIDS and help HIV-positive people live with dignity. In 2009, the U.S. travel ban to the U.S. on HIV-positive individuals was lifted due to Lee's leadership. That, in turn, led to the U.S. hosting the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. last year.

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Marrige bill passes French Assembly

The French National Assembly this week passed a marriage equality bill, making the European country the 14th nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

Bringing same-sex marriage to one of the world's most romantic countries was marred by violent protests and sharp criticism by conservative political and religious leaders leading up to the Assembly's vote April 23.

Tuesday was also marked by jubilant celebrations in the streets of Marais, Paris's gay neighborhood, according to media reports.

The bill is on its way to President Francois Hollande, who has 15 days to sign it into law.

Hollande has been a supporter of the bill and is expected to sign it. Once signed weddings will begin in June.

Colombia steps back from marriage equality

After an impassioned overnight debate on April 23, Colombia's Senate postponed its vote on a same-sex marriage bill. This was the second time the matter has been delayed.

The vote was halted because 20 senators didn't get to argue their position, reported Gay Star News.

The debate is expected to resume this week.

The bill is opposed by conservatives who allege that a "gay lobby" was trying to force Colombia to accept same-sex marriage. Conservative Senator Roberto Gerlein claimed that the bill will lead to the "destruction" of the Colombian family.

The long debate was "incredibly insulting," reported Andres Duque, a blogger at Blabbeando and Noticias LGBT.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at 00+1-415-221-3541, Skype: heather.cassell, or .