Reading the article by John Callaghan titled “From the Frontline of the War on HIV & AIDS” brought so many memories to me. I really want to thank John for eloquently expressing something so visible but yet so invisible, not just within the LGBT community globally, but also within the community of people living with HIV globally.
I am a black gay man living with HIV. I am also an immigrant from a very homophobic country—Nigeria. I know what it means to move in and out of demographics and how that can impact one’s life.
I also know what it means to live through the AIDS epidemic. I was diagnosed in 2004 in Nigeria. To many in the Western world, access to advanced medications has been achieved, but to many in developing countries, including Nigeria, we were still dealing with accessing affordable care. But an even deeper issue for the gay community is our invisibility and the stigma that we face.
Efforts to provide access to care and educational programs and campaigns were limited to heterosexuals. This means that, for the most part, during the deadliest period of the AIDS epidemic across the African continent, gay men were not seen, heard or counted. It was hard for many us seeing our friends dying, while we waited to die as well.
Like John, I can say a lot has changed, thanks to programs like PEPFAR (though it hasn’t been perfect, it answered so many questions). UNAIDS was also able to make lots of bold steps in HIV treatment and care for gay men.
However, many challenges remain, even as we move toward the era of biomedical prevention championed by PrEP. We are failing to stop new infections, and stigma is leading gay men to marry women, which in turn, makes it harder to reach the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets across Africa.
I look forward to the time when, like John, many African gay men can look back with reflections, but look forward with pride.
Executive Director, Bisi Alimi Foundation
London, United Kingdom