April 16, 2010

The Day of Silence

The Day of Silence is a student-led national event in USA that brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. Students from middle school to college take some form of a vow of silence in an effort to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior. The event is designed to illustrate the silencing effect of this bullying and harassment on LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT.

In 1996, students at the University of Virginia, USA organized the first Day of Silence in response to a class assignment on non-violent protests. Over 150 students participated in this inaugural DOS. In 1997, organizers took their effort nationally and nearly 100 colleges and universities participated. In 2001, GLSEN became the official organizational sponsor for the event.

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established nationally in 1995, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

For more information visit: Day of Silence

April 13, 2010

HIV/AIDS stigma as a major challenge in achieving universal access

Since the face case of HIV/AIDS was reported in the world, the pandemic has change the behavior of the world, the disease has killed 25 million people and infected 40 million more. It has become one of the world’s leading causes of death among both women and men aged between 15 and 59. It has inflicted the single greatest reversal in the history of human development. In other words, it has become the greatest challenge of our generation.

As the number of infections continues to increase, stigma and discrimination remains a formidable challenge to achieve universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support. HIV/AIDS-related stigma and its associated discrimination affect all aspects of HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care. HIV thrives in an environment of ignorance and erodes social support for infected people, which is access to information, support, economic and legal services.

One lesson we have learnt in the Care and Support Project is that stigma and discrimination promotes the culture of silence – people fear to talk about HIV ands AIDS, let alone disclose there status. Stigma, discrimination, Poverty and denial, as well as lack of confidentiality, contributes to a climate of fear. This undermines prevention, care and treatment efforts and further increases the impact of the epidemic on individuals, families, communities and society at large.

The impact of stigma on the affected individual can lead to depression, guilt and shame, as well as to behaviour that limits participation within communities and access to services intended to assist them. HIV/AIDS-related stigma constantly reminds members of the discriminated groups that they are social outcasts or even deserve to be punished. If people are mocked or treated with hostility, they may feel uncared for and are therefore less likely to take steps to protect themselves.

HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination is a major obstacle to effective prevention and care for it can prevent governments (national authorities) from getting a true picture of the burden of the pandemic because people are not coming forward for testing, care and support. This compromises planning, allocation of resources and provision of services to people with HIV and for people from other highly vulnerable groups.

Stigma and discrimination hinders prevention interventions by fostering ignorance about facts on HIV. HIV/AIDS-related stigma discourages people to get tested or when they get tested, from returning for their test results. Some avoid clinics known to be testing for HIV. Others believe that the fact that they have been tested it will eventually reach the rest of the community.

The fear of being stigmatized results in women, men and young people being unable to look after their sexual and reproductive health – accessing sexual health information, treatment and methods for HIV and STI prevention, such as the condom use. Some infected individuals may choose not to change or adapt their behaviour to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission for fear that such a change would arouse suspicion and stigma. Stigma by health-care providers nurses, doctors impacts on access to treatment in health centers and hospitals. Some medical workers, in an attempt to avoid having contact with people living with HIV/AIDS or provide care, pass patient from one health worker to another or from one hospital to another.

Stigma and discrimination has made the medical management of HIV and AIDS very stressful despite efforts to create more awareness. Social stigmatization of the disease frustrates efforts to apply the most effective medical interventions in the management of HIV and AIDS, counseling, testing and treatment. It causes individuals to shy away from tests hence treatment is delayed or not received at all. Delayed treatment can contribute to the continued spread of the Virus because people do not know their status.

Reducing stigma and discrimination is crucial to the success of Universal Access to HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention, care and support programmes, as the quality of such programmes can and do depend on the degree at which health centers and hospitals welcome and respect the rights of the individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

Hon. Ibekwe Alexander
Director, Health Link Organization
South East Coordinator, Association of Positive Youth in Nigeria (APYIN)
Chiarman Director of Health National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN)
source: Global Network of Poeple living with HIV

April 1, 2010

All 47 Counsil of Europe countries unanimously agree on historic human rights recommendations for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people

On March 31, 2010 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, representing the national governments of its 47 Member States, unanimously adopted historic Recommendations on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is the world’s first intergovernmental agreement codifying the application of human rights standards to LGBT people.

The Recommendations establish how international human rights standards should be applied to LGBT people and contain specific measures for Member States on how they should improve their legislation, policies and practices to address discrimination against LGBT people in such areas as

- hate crime and hate speech;
- freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly;
- right to respect for private and family life;
- employment;
- education;
- health;
- housing;
- sports;
- right to seek asylum.

Additionally, the Recommendations prescribe that Member States should ensure that national human rights structures are clearly mandated to address discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. They also encourage Member States to address multiple discrimination experienced by LGBT people.

ILGA-Europe’s only regret is that the Member States did not go as far as we hoped for in some areas, particularly family rights.

Martin K.I. Christensen, Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, said:
“This is a truly historical development! For the first time in history the European continent came together to codify human rights’ applications to LGBT people. As we celebrate this landmark in European human rights history, we also hope that these Recommendations will help to advance the human rights for LGBT people beyond Europe. ”

Linda Freimane, Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, added:
“These Recommendations go well beyond the current situation in many European countries for LGBT people and will surely serve as a blueprint for our members in working with their national governments. We will also follow closely the three year review mechanism agreed by the Committee of Ministers to ensure the full implementation. Finally, we encourage the Council of Europe to organise a campaign among its Member States to promote these Recommendations.”

The Committee of Ministers is the Council of Europe's decision-making body. It comprises the Foreign Affairs Ministers of all the Member States, or their permanent diplomatic representatives in Strasbourg.

The full text of the Recommendations is available on the Committee of Minister’s website.

Armenia: Gays live with threats of violence, abuse [EurasiaNet report]

Two years after Yerevan signed an international agreement to uphold the civil rights of gays, homosexuals in Armenia still face the constant threat of physical abuse and social isolation because of their sexual orientation.

"When my parents learned that I was homosexual, they first beat me and then kicked me out," Armen, a 22-year-old Yerevan resident who works as a teacher, told EurasiaNet.org. "Even now, after years have gone by, my mother doesn’t let me in, and some of my friends keep asking whether I’m really one of ’those’ people."

Armen (not his real name) says he realized he was gay at the age of 13 when he fell in love with his classmate. He met his first boyfriend in an online chat room when he was 20.

"I introduced him to my parents as just one of my friends. But one day my mother saw me kissing him, and that’s when all this started," Armen said. "My mother yelled that I’d better be dead, and my brother left the army to come home and beat me. So I went to live in the streets." Armen now lives with his grandmother.

Homosexuality has not been a criminal offense in Armenia since 2003; two years ago, the country signed the United Nations Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which asserts the right to equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation or gender. It has also ratified a protocol to the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms that bans all forms of discrimination.

But gay Armenians are still often the targets of discrimination. Aside from the risk of losing work, homosexuals face becoming social outcasts - a heavy burden in Armenia’s communal, family-centric culture. Some families have been known to emigrate to escape the stigma of having a gay family member. Similar social prejudices prevail in neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan as well.

The United States Department of State’s 2009 Human Rights Report described the Armenian public’s views on gays as "highly unfavorable;" homosexuality is "largely" seen as "an affliction," the report found. [For additional information click here].

"Armenia has always been intolerant toward homosexuals," commented Mikael Danielian, the chairperson of the Helsinki Association of Armenia, a human rights non-governmental organization.

Danielian says that his organization regularly receives alarming calls about attacks on suspected homosexuals. But criminal cases for the assaults usually are not filed because victims are afraid of publicity and additional public scorn, he said.

"Frankly speaking, we cannot do anything in these cases," Danielian said. Sometimes, gays who have been the alleged victims of discrimination simply want attacks mentioned in the organization’s reports, he added.

One recent assault was reported in mid-February when local media outlets claimed that Yerevan Mayor Gagik Beglarian had ordered police officers to use force against suspected homosexuals and transvestites who allegedly routinely gathered in a park adjacent to the mayor’s office. Yerevan mayor spokesperson Anzhela Martirosian declined to comment on the reports, maintaining that the incident "didn’t concern the mayor’s functions."

One new political group has welcomed what it sees as the mayor’s decision to rid the Armenian capital of homosexuals. The National Conservative Movement, a small right-wing party founded last year, hailed Mayor Beglarian as a "true Armenian man" and urged supporters to continue attacking homosexuals.

Gay rights and violence against homosexuals are not issues that other political parties -- whether members of Armenia’s governing coalition, or in the opposition -- discuss publicly.

The Armenian Apostolic Church is similarly reticent. Father Vahram Melikian, spokesperson for the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church, identified homosexuality as "a sin" and "negative phenomenon."

"[B]ut even these people can be granted absolution and come back to the right path," Father Melikian said.
Anti-gay attitudes appear to run particularly strong in the military. Since 2004, gays have been exempted from military service for supposedly being mentally ill.

One man, who gave his name as Narek, told EurasiaNet.org that an army officer had beaten him when he revealed his homosexuality during a psychiatric exam for military service. Narek claims that he spent three days in a mental hospital and was discharged from military service with the diagnosis of a "personality disorder."

One non-governmental organization, Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK Armenia), was formed in 2007. It aims to raise awareness about minority rights, and advocates for a break with traditional prejudices. "We live in an atmosphere where people are full of hateful words against homosexuals, and this drives them to commit hate crimes," commented Marina Margarian, PINK Armenia’s project coordinator. "An atmosphere exists where being gay is a terrible disgrace and beating a gay person is an honorable act."

Given the fear of reprisals, many Armenian homosexuals try to keep their contacts with other gays as discreet as possible. The members-only Armenian gay social network www.GayArmenia.com thoroughly scrutinizes a candidate’s personal data before admitting him as a member. The website has about 1,000 registered users, half of whom live in Armenia.

"The access to the website is limited for security reasons because many people were afraid to place their photos. And we had to create a place where homosexual men could meet safely," said GayArmenia.com founder Micha Meroujean.

Reason exists for such caution, states one gay young man, who claims that some his friends were badly beaten by unknown assailants after trying to establish contact with an allegedly gay man through an online dating service.

Chances for change appear slim. Said Meroujean, who emigrated from Armenia to Europe to escape mistreatment: "Society’s bad attitude again and again shoves Armenia’s homosexuals into the closet."

Marianna Grigoryan
freelance reporter based in Yerevan

source: EurasiaNet