The arrest of three people protesting the lack of HIV/AIDS programming for men who have sex with men at the recent HIV/AIDS Implementers’ Meeting in Kampala, capital of Uganda, has drawn criticism from HIV activists around the world.
IRIN/PlusNews spoke to one activist, Ray, about growing up gay in Uganda and the need for HIV prevention messages targeting the gay community.
“I was born into a Christian family living in the village. I really knew myself that I was gay when I was very young – four or five years old.
“I used to think that maybe I had a problem – I was supposed to be attracted to ladies, but I was attracted to men. I shared this with my older brother, and he told me that one day I would be attracted to ladies.
“After school I came to Kampala to look for a job, and while I was working and growing up the issue [of being attracted to men] was going on. One time I happened to meet someone in town who was also like me.
“We talked, we talked; I understood that I was not alone. I knew I was gay, but being gay in Uganda, it is not easy. It has to be quiet – we are hiding.
“We wanted to do something about HIV. Many LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people] are suffering from HIV. Some are sick, some have died. Government doesn’t see us as people who should be looked after, so we wanted to make a campaign.
“Two or three days before the [HIV Implementers’] conference started, we said, ‘We need to organise ourselves’ [to advocate prevention]. We need HIV prevention like any Ugandan.
“My boyfriend was there and he demonstrated. I was so, so worried about it, [but] he said, ‘If we keep quiet no one will talk on our behalf’.
“Three [demonstrators] were caught and taken to the police. They spent two nights in jail, which was not easy because they were being abused. One person is transgender, so people were asking: ‘Are you a man or a woman?’, and people even touched there [the genital area] to see. Then the second day they were released on court bond.
“We need services and programmes. In counselling and testing, the counsellors say, ‘Have sex with a condom’, but we need a lubricant also. We can’t talk and say, ‘I have sex with a man’, so they can’t give enough information about how gay men should protect themselves from HIV.
“On [the packet of] condoms, it’s a man and a woman; on signposts, it’s a man and a woman. Some people are not educated – they see a man and a woman so they think if you are gay and having sex with a man then you cannot get HIV.
“Homosexuals don’t know that you need a certain [water-based] lubricant. People were using Blue Band [a brand of margarine], or Vaseline [a brand of petroleum jelly], and afterwards we learn that this destroys the condom. The [water-based] lubricant they have here is KY and it’s very expensive; that’s why people were resorting to Blue Band.
“The government is only looking after straight people, but some gay people are married and have women, then they sleep with men. If you don’t treat [a gay man] but you treat his wife, then you aren’t doing work preventing HIV.”