Soweto Pride 2015 participants
In a controversial move, organisers of Soweto Pride have decided to not allow voluntary HIV testing at the event later this month.
Pride gatherings have become an important “safe space” in which to target LGBT people when it comes to HIV awareness and testing.
South Africa is faced with one of the world’s most devastating HIV epidemics, which particularly affects men who have sex with men (MSM) and the transgender community
Despite this, the organisers of Soweto Pride, the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), announced in a statement to Mambaonline that they had “taken a stance that no HIV testing will be conducted during the event,” which it described as “a political social space”.
FEW said: “After much reflection, including many discussions about previous incidences and experiences, the organisation has decided that it is not a feminist principle to influence people to test at a social space.”
The organisation also argued that it “does not have the capacity to deal with cases of trauma that could emerge at the event should anyone test positive.”
“Testing positive is a life changing event. Different people react differently, and for most people a 30 minute post-test counselling session will not be sufficient for them to cope mentally and emotionally with such news,” insisted FEW.
The organisation will, however, allow organisations at the event to share information about the work they do and how people can access testing.
The news has come as a shock to The Anova Health Institute, which is behind campaigns focusing on MSM, such as Health4Men and WeTheBrave.co.za. It urged Soweto Pride to reconsider its “no HIV testing” policy.
Anova said in a statement: “As an organisation, we pride ourselves on the strides we have made to afford key population groups the services and information that they need to lead long and healthy lives, whether they are HIV-positive, or not.
“Access to healthcare is a human rights issue, and it is still a challenge to get gay/bi men in Soweto to go to MSM competent clinics due to stigma and the fear of discrimination. In the past, hundreds of people from all walks of life have used this resource at Soweto Pride to discover their HIV status and seek treatment.”
Anova called on Soweto Pride organisers to give it “permission to continue providing these much-needed services to eradicate the spread of HIV”.
Fiona, Miss Gay Soweto
Miss Gay Soweto, Fiona (Nhlanhla Thabatha), told Mambaonline that Soweto Pride should sit down with HIV testing providers to find a compromise to the impasse.
“By not allowing testing you are making it something taboo to do, instead of showing people that there is nothing wrong in going for a test,” she said.
“At the clinic the nurses are so serious and you are scared even before the process has started. We are also stigmatised in clinics; you are labelled and are called names. At least at the Pride it is bubbly and people may feel more comfortable to get tested.
“Why don’t we use that opportunity? We are the ones who are most infected with the virus, so use where we are in numbers so that something good comes out of Pride,” added Fiona.
The 12th edition of Soweto Pride takes place on Saturday 24 September at the Meadowland Phase 2 Park, from 9am to 5pm. The theme is “Our Lives Matter: Safety, Justice & Freedom are our Rights”.