December 10, 2015
Written by AVAC staffer Micheal Ighodaro, this was first published by the International AIDS Society (IAS).
I was infected with HIV as an adolescent in the streets of Nigeria. As an openly gay man coming from a country like mine, I can tell you first-hand that without addressing human rights we cannot address HIV.
I knew I was gay when I was seven years old. My mum always knew but she always tried to hide it. I remember when I first asked her what the meaning of gay was she told me, “It means evil”. She locked me up in my room for a whole day for asking her what the meaning of gay was. She took me from church to church and to witch doctors who tried to cure me of what she believed I was.
She did this for three years and realized that all she had been doing was not working and that I really was gay. She and my dad hated me so much that my dad asked me to leave the house. I left home when I was seventeen and dropped out of my final year of high school because my dad was not going to pay my fees anymore. I traveled from city to city in Nigeria doing things that I am not really proud of, just so I could get the next meal.
Apart from Bisi Alimi—who was living in the UK and openly gay and HIV positive—no one was openly out as gay and living with HIV in Nigeria because of the stigma and discrimination. I had no idea that I had HIV or that I could contract HIV as a gay man due to lack of information. I lost some of my friends who would still be alive today if it weren’t for the stigma they experienced. It felt like no one was interested in us, gay men living with HIV. It seemed like we were almost left to die. Today, I am really happy for the treatment and prevention that is available now and that many gay men like myself, can live longer and healthier lives.
However, we still have over 79 countries where it is illegal to be gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. These laws make it almost impossible for us to access HIV prevention and treatment services, which is a direct attack on our basic human rights.
LGBTI populations still face the highest risk of getting HIV in Syria and Afghanistan LGBTI populations face heightened discrimination from ISIS and other religious groups and in most cases are sentenced to death. Many of us are now refugees and asylum seekers in different countries.
As a person who has experienced the discrimination that comes from being gay in my own country, I must ask the question: How far have we gone in protecting the rights of vulnerable populations? This question remains to be answered and goes even beyond the legal rights of LGBTI—it’s about the rights of sex workers, trans diverse persons, people who use drugs, and people living with HIV.
All the recent scientific success we have had in the fight against HIV will come to nothing if we continue to have laws that take away the right of individuals to access life-saving care they need. On this International Human Rights Day, I ask that you stand with me in solidarity for all those who have experienced an attack on their human rights. We should and must do better.