Kenyan MSM activist shares his vision in fight against stigma and discrimination

Anthony Adero, Kenyan MSM activist

Anthony A, 24, is a young charismatic Kenyan MSM activist. He focusses specifically on young MSM and works hard to ensure they have access to health, justice and equal rights.

Melissa Wainaina from Behind the Mask interviewed him and below are excerpts of their conversation:

Tell us a little about who you are and your early life.

I grew up and was raised in three major cities of Kenya. I am from a humble family background. I have been lobbying for access to Sexual and Reproductive Health information and STI and HIV services for young MSM (Men who Have Sex with Men) in Kenya.

In addition, I have interned at the East African Sexual Rights Initiative (UHAI‐EASHRI) and I worked with a community based organization called Ishtar MSM that focuses on peer education and counselling within LGBTI until 2010.

Please tell us how you entered LGBTI activism? What drove you to it?

I joined national LGBTI activism five years ago during the seventh edition of the World Social Forum in Nairobi 2007.

I remember it as a life changing moment. This is when I got to meet eight Nairobi-based groups along with their courageous activists who joined forces to create Galck, the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya and Kegale, the Kenya Gay and Lesbian Trust.

Feeling a calling to activism, I joined Ishtar MSM shortly afterwards. While there I saw a shift in the strategic course of the activists [and] that increased my enthusiasm to see changes in human rights in Kenya and particularly with the challenges I had encountered personally. I saw a repressive, homophobic environment especially in health and social wellbeing areas.

Please share some highlights of the work you have done and the impact it may have made in the LGBTI community.

My very first work was with Ishtar MSM as a volunteer peer educator. Here I was a friendly face discussing a difficult but pertinent conversation with fellow MSM on their sexual health.

I had in the past worked in programs that address issues related to HIV and open minded social justice, particularly youth concerns, competencies of the LGBTI communities and greater involvement of people living with HIV in positive Health, Dignity and Prevention that links HIV treatment, prevention, support and care within a human rights framework.

After this, I interned at UHAI, the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative. This internship provided me with some invaluable experiences and skills necessary for my work. It bred me into a young activist and human rights defender providing me with hands-on skills in research, reporting and capacity building experience.

I also had the opportunity to meet and network with a variety of individuals in and out of the LGBTI community.

In 2011 I joined UNAids [and have] contributed to sensitizing both the youth and UNAids staff on working together to address issues related to HIV, particularly youth concerns, gender and human rights.

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I am participating in a multiple stakeholder partnership with the National Aids Control Council and the National Aids and STI control programme in developing strategic processes for behavioural and biomedical interventions for key populations across Kenya.

The most hard to reach LGBT group will be my focus which means I will closely work with male sex workers who are usually disadvantaged in HIV and Aids prevention programing.

I have been doing a review of young people and HIV in Kenya [in which] I examine the situation, the response and identify opportunities for strengthening leadership at different levels.

Young MSM and young male sex workers living with HIV are an unreached group in the HIV response.

Young men who have sex with men (YMSM) are disproportionately affected by HIV in Kenya and yet still face constant stigma, discrimination, homophobia, violence and criminalization. This further drives them underground and out of reach and access of prevention, treatment and care healthcare services.

Many YMSM are susceptible to homelessness, substance abuse and initiation of sexual activity at a young age.

These issues highlight the pressing need to target HIV prevention and care to YMSM, addressing both individual behaviours and social and structural determinants of risk.

I must say my capacity as young person has been strengthened in my experience and my leadership skills. I am building young voices and skills in HIV prevention.

A lot of LGBT groups can [now] utilise my skills in their growth, programming and strategic thinking.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope to see more support in anti-stigma and HIV education campaigns that work to ensure we increase and enforce protective laws. I also hope that we can fight and oppose and repeal laws that criminalize HIV non-disclosure, exposure or transmission, homosexuality, gender variance, sex work and drug use, and that violate sexual and reproductive rights.

I also feel strongly on seeing more support and promotion programmes that emancipate marginalised groups in knowing their rights, being aware of existing laws and easier access to justice.

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