Advancing rights for sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)

By Matthew Arcilla, @ArcillaMatthew

Lesbians. Gays. Transsexuals. What are their rights? What are their sexual health needs? This was the topic of a parallel session at the Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive & Sexual Health Rights. Chaired by Jeanette Slootbeek and Raine Cortes, the session focused on advancing sexual orientation/gender identity (SOGI) rights.

Renu Kapoor of the Family Planning Association of India Hyderabad talked about approaches to increasing access to SRH-HIV services, primarily by reducing the stigma that comes with HIV status and expanding HIV service networks for transgenders (TG) and men who have sex with men (MSMs). India is the second largest country with a high rate of HIV/AIDS incidence, and as such, FPA India began conducting health sessions. Among the strategies used were the promotion of condom use through condom boxes in drop-in centers, and improving the integration of services. The results were an increase in health-seeking behavior by 55%, which translated to increased condom use and decreased infection rates. Still, Kapoor emphasized the importance of gender sensitivity in providing care and services, and the challenges presented by increasing the number of drop-in centers.

Sharful Islam Khan talked about the efficacy of interventions through HIV prevention programs and services. The question was whether these programs and services addressed inequities or simply widened the gap. He opened his talk by linking health issues with the political, social, environmental and economic settings that affect them. Khan said that to promote health rights, it is necessary to create opportunities and remove barriers, with the ultimate goal of making socioeconomic status a non-issue in exercising health rights. Still, despite good intentions in the form of sensitive health service providers and drop-in centers, Khan said that the current intervention framework needs to be scrutinized to ensure issues of equity are paid attention to. For example, although MSMs and TGs are more likely to be infected with HIV, they receive a small proportion of funding.

Dede Oetomo spoke about GAYa NUSANTARA, the organization he co-founded, which is regarded as the first LGBT rights organization in Indonesia. Oetomo shared the things he learned over twenty years of work protecting and advancing the rights of LGBT. Oetomo distinguished between two kinds of rights violations that LGBTs experience: discrimination and violence. In the case of discrimination, this manifests in culturally-induced shame. Transgendered men are pressured to conceal their gender identity to evade harassment, while homosexual couples experience abuse. Oetomo described violence as a ‘multi-level phenomena’ that penetrates several aspects of life, and is perpetrated not just by agents of the state, but by family, neighbors and religious organizations. These violations communicate a salient truth about SOGI rights: stigma serves to undercut advances. Still, Oetomo asserted deepening knowledge on human rights, reproductive health, sexuality and social movements can help combat these violations.

Collectively, the panel showed how providing services and addressing the LGBT demographic presents unique complications. The attitude and demeanor of care providers can significantly affect receptiveness and use of services. It is also not enough to simply address HIV/AIDS but to ensure all groups are being served equally and attitudes go a long way to encouraging LGBT individuals to exercise their rights and avail of services.

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