Changing Hearts and Minds: Fighting Discrimination and HIV

A FOJASSIDA peer educator and lay counselor. Photo credit: LINKAGES/MSH

Working for the LINKAGES Project has been transformative for Majestade* and Rogério Vaduca in very different ways.

As a homosexual, Majestade, 30, was suffering discrimination within his own strongly religious family. Vaduca, supervisor with LINKAGES partner the Forum Juvenil de Apoio à Saúde e Prevenção da SIDA, (FOJASSIDA), struggled with his own prejudice against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) community.

But through working as a peer educator and advocate with FOJASSIDA, Majestade gained the courage to sensitize his family about homosexuality. He told them about his peer education and how he could help others in the community lead healthier lives. He spoke about how discrimination can lead to marginalization and even death, whether through homophobic attacks, risky living, or suicide. As a result, family relations improved. 

“They thought hard. I feel that the discrimination that I suffered has diminished, even with my neighbors,” says Majestad. 

And once Vaduca received training and began working with men who have sex with men (MSM) his prejudice disappeared. “In the beginning, it was hard to be comfortable with gay people,” he said. “I had an internal conflict listening to men talking about their male partners and their desire to raise children. Today, as a result of the project training and working with gay men and men who have sex with other men, my beliefs have changed. The stigma has disappeared.”

He said that he has tried to influence others to adopt positive behaviors, such as respecting and accepting LGBTIQ individuals.

Majestade and Vaduca might not have undergone such transformations without the organizational change that FOJASSIDA itself underwent to ensure institutional awareness and safe reporting were made possible within the organization.

For Majestade, being a positive example is as important as raising awareness about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. “We must be what we teach,” he said.

Along with LGBTIQ community partners such as the IRIS Association, the Angolan Identity Archive, and the I Am Trans Movement, LINKAGES supported various trainings, lectures, and group talks to bring key populations closer to civil society organizations, health facilities, and police in Luanda Province. LINKAGES and its partners provided education about gender identity, sexual orientation, and risky behavior, communicating how prejudice, stigma, and discrimination increases the risk of key populations contracting HIV.

[Ilha Health Center staff after completing training on key populations, stigma, and discrimination facilitated by LINKAGES in partnership with the Eu Sou Trans Movement in June 2018. Photo credit: LINKAGES/MSH]Ilha Health Center staff after completing training on key populations, stigma, and discrimination facilitated by LINKAGES in partnership with the Eu Sou Trans Movement in June 2018. Photo credit: LINKAGES/MSH

The project trained 550 health sector staff, including health providers, doctors, and administrators from 21 health facilities. With additional financial support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), LINKAGES and another partner, the Associação de Solidariedade & Ajuda Mútua (ASCAM), also trained 77 leaders of departments of domestic violence, civic and moral education, and victim support, and trained 523 police from more than 18 municipal and district police stations between 2017 and 2018.

*Pseudonym to protect identity.

The Linkages across the Continuum of HIV Services for Key Populations Affected by HIV (LINKAGES) project, a global cooperative agreement led by FHI 360, was implemented in Angola by MSH in partnership with civil society organizations (CSOs), government stakeholders, and key population (KP) individuals, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). 

The Forum Juvenil de Apoio à Saúde e Prevenção da SIDA (FOJASSIDA) was created in 2001. It aims to promote human rights and prevent HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis, especially among youth. Its programs enhance youth civic and political participation, building partnerships with churches, international organizations, and provincial and national governments. FOJASSIDA has implemented 33 projects benefitting 1.5 million people. 

The organization contributed to LINKAGES from 2016-2018, providing prevention and testing services to 1,926 men who have sex with men and 20 transgender individuals in Luanda. In 2018, it supported LINKAGES in Bié Province in partnership with the US Department of Defense, the Program to Fight HIV / AIDS and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections of the Angolan Armed Forces, the Provincial Health Directorate, and provided HIV prevention and testing services for 1,046 female sex workers.