The search for common humanity at the heart of the HIV response
A series of articles by guest writers for World AIDS Day
Part of AVERT's World AIDS Day 2012 campaign, ‘Reflections on the Epidemic’ are a series of articles by guest writers.
Our guest writers range from global leaders, writers, experts, activists, physicians and people personally affected by HIV and AIDS; and they represent various countries, experiences and backgrounds from all over the world.
We are grateful to all our guest writers for their effort and the diverse and insightful viewpoints that they contributed to the world’s response to HIV and AIDS.
You can also see all articles and writers in this series at the end of every article.
On Tuesday, I pack my bags for Uganda. My first trip to the country since the murder of LGBT activist David Kato. 1
The day of David’s death, Wednesday, January 26th 2011, was one of the bleakest of my life, and certainly of my time at the UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development. 2 David had been a star contributor to our conference on HIV Care and Support the previous November and we had all fallen a little in love with his poise, his humility and, above all, his courage.
David was killed for being himself, a gay man, a champion of the rights of people living with HIV and of the LGBT community. Of all the moments we enjoyed together at that conference, perhaps the most special was when Kufekisa Laugery, 3 a Zambian caregiver brought over by HelpAge International, offered him praise. At least on that day, David was edgy and ready for a (verbal) fight. Her words dissolved the tension, bringing us instantly to a gentler place where we could explore our common humanity.
The day after David’s death showed the Consortium membership at its best. We are a network of 80 UK charities that have been working together since 1986 to promote an effective response to HIV and AIDS around the world, and our members rallied in all their diversity to the vigil we organised outside Uganda House. No one was missing. David’s death had touched us regardless of our nationality, sexuality, voting habits, faith, budget pressures, hairstyles, shoe size...
The subsequent weeks also showed UK Consortium members at their best. I am thinking in particular about the Vision and Voice Award launched by IPPF, 4 or the work of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and Interact Worldwide in their advocacy with DFID, the FCO and The Commonwealth. 5 6 More recently, I am thinking of the launch of Kaleidoscope Trust, a Consortium member and supremely effective global advocate for LGBT rights. 7
Unfortunately, my visit next week will carry memories of a second tragic death, that of David Cairns MP. 8 David was the chair of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS and died, completely unexpectedly, in May 2011. 9 The two Davids had met each other at our conference and during a visit to Uganda. David Cairns’ partner Demot Kehoe therefore readily agreed when I proposed David Cairns Foundation funds be allocated in memory of David Kato to his old organisation, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). 10 Earlier this year a staggering £10,000 was raised to establish Uganda’s first healthcare clinic for LGBT communities in Kampala. It will be humbling to see how this clinic is faring in such a hostile environment and to understand its contribution to the HIV response.
The reaction to David Kato’s death re-galvanized our efforts to find common ground between what I awkwardly describe as faith-based and secular-minded organisations. Drawing on the membership of two of our Working Groups, we began to look specifically at the positive role faith-based approaches play in challenging homophobia and criminalization, and how we might learn from them.
This is a growing interest within the faith community of course, with many vital contributions from organisations such as Christian Aid, Tearfund and the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance as well as the out-going Archbishop of Canterbury. 11 And it is a growing theme within secular-minded agencies, witness Duncan Green’s recent OXFAM blog. 12 Donors too are beginning to explore the territory with more confidence: see for example, DFID’s Faith Partnership Principles paper. 13 I was therefore delighted to make this the central theme for our AGM last month. 14
For the AGM, we produced a background paper entitled Faith, HIV and the Criminalization of Homosexuality and held a roundtable discussion with a range of speakers including the Reverend James Matarazzo from Oxford University, Mike Batcock from DFID and Mohamed Osman from the Elton John AIDS Foundation - very different perspectives united in their desire to identify practical approaches going forward. 15 Our hope is that we will go on to produce a policy paper, together with case studies, in the near future.
The AGM, as with David’s death was, above all, a reminder that the global response to HIV and AIDS is necessarily a human rights response. It was also a reminder that the criminalization of LGBT communities is disastrous for the response to HIV and AIDS because it drives people underground, fuelling the HIV epidemic by making access to prevention, treatment, care and support so much more difficult.
But it was also a reminder that dialogue, mutual respect, the search for our common humanity is at the heart of what we are doing in development. Difficult to measure perhaps, but the living breath of networks such as the Consortium. I am not alone in reflecting how much development generally has to learn from the AIDS response - the theme of our recent Positive Gains policy paper and of our recent advocacy around post-2015. 16 17 Embracing our differences and revelling in dialogue is surely top of this list.
I don’t really know what to expect when I return to Uganda next Tuesday. But I do know that I will tread carefully, looking for the places and spaces where David set up camp to talk and be listened to.
Ben Simms is Director at the UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development.
For more information on how HIV effects gay men in Africa, see AVERT’s page.
Images: 'Vigil for David Kato' and ‘Ben Simms’, courtesy of Author.
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All opinions expressed in 'Reflections on the Epidemic' do not necessarily represent those of AVERT.
- 1. Wikipedia (2012) ' David Kato'
- 2. (2012) ' UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development'
- 3. UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development (2012) ' Care and Support'
- 4. (2012) ' David Kato Vision and Voice Award'
- 5. International HIV/AIDS Alliance (2012) ' KC Team'
- 6. interact worldwide (2012) ' Uganda'
- 7. (2012) ' Kaleidoscope Trust'
- 8. Wikipedia (2012) ' David Cairns MP
- 9. (2012) ‘ All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS'
- 10. (2012) ‘ David Cairns Foundation’
- 11. UNAIDS (2012, March 1) ‘ Archbishop of Canterbury: “AIDS is not just a question of epidemiology but a question of social life”’
- 12. Oxfam (2012) ‘ From Poverty to Power’
- 13. DfID (2012) ‘ Faith groups: New partnership on aid’
- 14. 'UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development (2012) ‘ UK Consortium’s 2012 AGM'
- 15. 'UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development (2012) ‘ Faith, HIV and the Criminalization of Homosexuality’
- 16. 'UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development (2012) ‘ The UK Consortium releases its newest policy brief: Positive Gains’
- 17. 'UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development (2012) ‘ UK Consortiums gives written evidence to the Post-2015 IDC Inquiry’