K24 is currently airing “an uncomfortable subject to discuss” in the three part miniseries called “The Invisible Bridge: the story of gay men in heterosexual marriages”. The news caster described it as “shocking and troubling” that 4 in 10 of gay Kenyan men were once married to women, and 1 in 10 are “still married with children but continue to be homosexual”. They are the ‘Bridge’ in question, and there is a real danger that HIV is spreading from one high risk population – men who sleep with men/MSM – to another – heterosexual couples in steady unions – and back.
On one hand, according to the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP), there is a lot of inconsistent condom use reported by MSM in Nairobi and Kisumu, and 20-25% of them supposedly do not believe that they can get HIV from unprotected anal sex, or that abstinence could protect them from HIV. On the one hand, 15.2% of new HIV Infections occurs among Men who have Sex with Men, whereas 44.1% occur among heterosexual couples within a steady union or relationship.
The implicit message appeals to our majorly homophobic society, which chooses to ignore the existence of gay and bisexual men in the country whilst criminalizing and discriminating against most-at-risk populations, namely sex workers, prison inmates and injectable drug users as well as MSM. The message is simple: Everybody’s at risk, and every Kenyan deserves equal access to health services and their management. We are all connected in the great Circle of Life.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention writes on homophobia and AIDS rates: “Stigma and homophobia may have a profound impact on the lives of MSM, especially their mental and sexual health. Internalized homophobia may impact men’s ability to make healthy choices, including decisions around sex and substance use. Stigma and homophobia may limit the willingness of MSM to access HIV prevention and care, isolate them from family and community support, and create cultural barriers that inhibit integration into social networks.” Couples in steady and non-steady unions, men and women with multiple partners, pregnant women, as well as rural males and females, girls and young women under the age of 25 are also high risk in Kenya especially in high prevalence districts.
I really hope these and more reports will at least encourage more people in long term relationships, homo- or hetero-, to take more preventative measures, find out their status and those of their partners, and seek the right medical care. But it’s also clear that without the right policies and programs in place to reach out to MSMs, who are generally excluded in national HIV prevention strategies for being immoral and disgusting and, of course, illegal (as opposed to the much less “shocking and troubling” mpango wa kando, heterosexual infidelity, targeted by a campaign voted best broadcast media campaign of 2009 by Consumer Insight), then all our prior efforts come undone. Our policy-makers need to make changes, and they will, if we unify our demand for them.
Maybe, just maybe, if we won’t legalize homosexuality as a principle of human rights, maybe one day we will realize our intolerant approaches also negatively affect the public good, and the not-so-innocent heterosexual existence. We must save “them” if we will ever save “ourselves”.
synopsis of PSI’s Mpango Wa Kando Campaign
nice post about discrimination and development by the crunk feminist on rights, equality and blackness