On LGBTQI and HIV activism and consultation ‘’ Nothing for us without us''

On LGBTQI and HIV activism and consultation ‘’ Nothing for us without us''

Consultation entitled ‘’Nothing for us without us - Unleashing youth leadership to address the challenge of HIV and LGBTQI rights in Europe’’, organized in Geneva, 15-16 July 2014, jointly by UNAIDS, ILGA-Europe and IGLYO, gathered seventeen of us, activists from all over the Europe. Our aim was to address the challenge of HIV and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people in Europe.

It looks like in the past decade HIV disappeared as a priority of the contemporary LGBTQI rights movement. Nevertheless, as it was stressed out at the consultation, across Europe crisis of HIV and human rights affecting gay and bisexual men, and transgender woman, persists. The European Men Who Have Sex With Men Internet Survey  (EMIS) reports that an average of 8% of gay and bisexual men today are living with HIV, with up to 1 in 4 living with HIV in the age group 45-49 years, in the western parts of Europe. Studies among transgender women in Europe indicate a very high prevalence of HIV - 24.5% in Italy, 18.8% in the Netherlands and 18.4% in Spain.

According to the statistics, the new wave of HIV infections is also affecting young men who have sex with men, previously at lower risk, who are living in rural areas and smaller cities. At the European level, there is a rapid growth of new infections among men who have sex with men, living in the central and eastern part of Europe. At this consultation, focus was more on men who have sex with men, transgender woman, and bisexual man, because those seems to be the key populations with the highest risk for HIV, but still, we addressed the need to be more inclusive towards others from LGBTQI spectrum, as it will be highlighted in the text later.

Several European countries have reduced funding for prevention of HIV. The rise of new infections threatens to further intensify stigma and discrimination towards LGBTQI people, especially in countries with high levels of homophobia, where populist movements who are against the human rights of LGBTQI people are more popular, like in Serbia, for example.

We were discussing about the potential of LGBTQI rights movement in Europe, to re-gain it’s role as a strong political voice and force for the HIV response.

We identified the need to put together HIV and LGBTQI activism, even though they are often separated, because sometimes activists from either one of them don’t want to be perceived as members of ‘’the other’’ group (sometimes people who live with HIV don’t want to be seen and be perceived as LGBTQI people and vice versa). It means that stigma and discrimination are not just present towards those social groups, but also between them. There is a presumption/prejudice that only people who are living with HIV/AIDS are dealing/should be dealing with HIV prevention and HIV activism in educational manner.

In that context, in order to encourage cooperation between HIV and LGBTQI activists, we need to address the educational potential of the programs (trainings, conferences, seminars, consultations) for both, LGBTQI and HIV activists. As a result, people from both fields of activism (HIV and LGBTQI), meeting in educational environment in national and international settings, can learn from each other, lower their defenses towards each other, and hopefully, create joint actions.

At ‘’Nothing for us without us’’ consultation, we identified priority fields of work for governments, local authorities and civil society organizations:

Ø  Strengthening the capacity of young LGBTQI activists and organizations to develop and implement innovative approaches (as for example: applied theatre techniques, as preventive educational tool) to address the challenge of HIV, and advance their health and human rights

Ø  Strengthening sexual education in schools, in accordance with the international technical guidance[1], that addresses the urgent needs of LGBTQI people for access to tailored, non-judgmental and anti-stigmatizing HIV information

Ø  Ensuring the rights and empowerment of LGBTQI people across Europe, to make informed choices in relation to treatment initiation and prevention strategies

Ø  Reducing stigma and discrimination related to sexual orientation and HIV status, and ending criminalization of homosexuality and an overly broad criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission.

At ‘’Nothing for us without us’’ consultation, we also highlighted the need for intersectional approach to activism. Intersectionality[2], which values a ‘’bottom-up’’ approach to research, analysis and planning, begins by asking questions about how people actually live their lives and what they experience, focusing on the complexity of interrelated processes, as for example, multiple discrimination against and among marginalized social groups. Issues of race, ethnicity, disability, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, HIV status, educational attainment levels, are all interrelated, because we don’t live a ‘’single issue’’ lives.

This consultation was focused mostly on men who have sex with men, transgender women and bisexual men, because according to the reports, those are the key populations. Still, we addressed the need to be inclusive and to take into an account the diversity of people from the LGBTQI spectrum, like lesbians, transgender man, bisexual woman, intersex individuals and we highlighted the queer and trans population in general: people who identify themselves as queer (gender non-conforming) or gender variant (anyone whose gender varies from normative gender identity and roles of the gender assigned at birth). Because no matter how people identify themselves in terms of gender, they can still be in the risk of HIV. There is a need to be inclusive when we speak about LGBTQI activism and HIV, especially in terms of gender identity and gender expression, which is a separate concept from sexual orientation.

When we are speaking about stigma, from the perspective of intersectional approach, we have to take into an account that, for example, people who live with HIV and identify themselves as transgender, (whose gender identity differs from biologically assigned sex), and who are for example, people of color, or come from lower socio-economic status, face multiple discrimination, not just from the ‘’general population’’, but also from the different social groups they belong to, or are perceived (by others) to belong to (eg. their ethnic group, religious group, LGBT mainstream population, other heterosexual people- living with HIV or not, etc.)

We must not forget that high suicide rate attempt among transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, comes directly from experiences of harassment, discrimination, violence and rejection they face in their everyday life. If we add one more factor to that picture, like living with HIV, or with disability, situation becomes more challenging. Different factors interact and produce a marked vulnerability to suicidal behavior in transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

That’s the main reason why intersectional approach and inclusive policies are of vital importance.

Example of good practice in Serbia, is cooperation between ALTERO – Association for personal training, education, development and empowerment and AS Center-for the empowerment of young people living with HIV/AIDS, both from Belgrade. Both organisations work together in the field of providing support for people who face stigma and discrimination, raising an awareness of citizens regarding social problems that people who are perceived as members of socially excluded groups face in everyday life, through affirmation of human rights and diversity and encouraging activism of marginalized social groups. From 2012th, and ALTERO’s project ’’Quest for peace and equality’’, which was aimed at creating forum theatre scenes after  7 day training, and performing for general public, members of AS Center and ALTERO together use forum theatre as preventive educational tool, performing not just in Belgrade, but throughtout Serbia too. Those forum theatre scenes cover the folowing topics: dicrimination on the grounds on sexual orientation and gender identity; discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS on individual and institutional level; domestic violence in the context of the reproduction of the patterns of the patriarchal society; peer pressure concerning sex life, and human trafficking prevention. Forum theatre is a type of the applied theatre called ‘’theatre of the oppressed’’. In forum theatre we, activists, perform short scenes on the topics mentioned above, and call the audience to help us, not just with their ideas and opinions, but also by, coming into ‘’the scene’’ and getting into the role of the person in the forum theatre scene. That way, activists and audience members explore together what can be done in concrete situation, so the situation of discrimination and potential violence and abuse can be prevented. In that way, audience members are not just discussing and sharing their attitudes verbally, but also, by having a chance to be ‘’in the role of another’’ they can experience how the other person can be thinking and feeling and how that shapes their behavior, which encourages people’s empathy. Forum theatre practice encourages as many 'spect-actors' as possible to intervene directly on stage as part of the investigation of an oppressive social situations .

Together we perform not just in Belgrade, but also, in different cities in Serbia (Obrenovac, Niš, Loznica and Pančevo), mostly for high school students, and youth in general, but as well for the general public and specific groups, for example: children who work and/or live on the streets, Roma youth, children without parental care, and colleague activists, as well. We also did forum theatre performances on the: Feminist activist festival on exchange of artistic ideas - ''Defense''; Adult Education Festival; Faculty of Political Sciences, all in Belgrade. We performed, as well, for the users of the Center for Youth Integration; in Primary school for adult education ‘’Jovan Cvijić’’ in Belgrade, Tourism high School; on Department of Children and Youth without parental care ’’Zvecanska’’ in Belgrade; in Info Room of the Belgrade Youth Office;  Fifth school of economics in Belgrade; Belgrade Polytechnic high school, Student cultural center in Niš, Sports and cultural center of Obrenovac, Local youth office in Loznica, the Hall of Electricity in Pancevo, etc.

ALTERO also provides psychological support, through individual and group psychodrama psychotherapy.

At consultation, ‘’Nothing for us without us - Unleashing youth leadership to address the challenge of HIV and LGBTQI rights in Europe’’, we came to the conclusion that the only way to make a change in our societies, and in the world in general, is to work together. Changes which we want to see in our societies can not happen without our active participation, involvement, contribution and cooperation.



Report written by:

Ksenija Joksimović, participant at the consultation

member of ALTERO – Association for personal training, education, development and empowerment


Watch ‘’Positive’’- a short film by Lux pictures about life with HIV-meeting the friends, family and partner of Beyondpositive’s editor-in-chief Tom Hayes



[1]UNESCO: International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, 2009

[2] Intersectionality: a tool for gender and economic justice (2004). Woman’s Rights and Economic Change, No.9. Retrieved from http://www.awid.org/Library/Intersectionality-A-Tool-for-Gender-and-Economic-Justice

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Last modified on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 22:23
Ksenija Joksimovic

 studentkinja psihodramske psihoterapije, kvir feministkinja i aktivistkinja za ženska, LGBTQIA i manjinska prava iz Beograda. Diplomirala je andragogiju (obrazovanje odraslih) i ima trenersko iskustvo u radu sa mladima u oblasti ljudskih prava, profesionalne orijentacije i karijernog savetovanja. Jedna je od osnivačica neformalne aktivističke grupe iz Beograda „Forum mladih za rodnu ravnopravnost“ koja se bavi prevencijom rodno zasnovanog nasilja, i organizuje forum teatare širom zemlje.

Ksenija veruje da aktivizam mora biti intersekcionalan, uključujući i kritičan prema društvenim normama, da bi imao smisla.


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