Sunday, November 26, 2006

Living with HIV/AIDS

For World AIDS Day 2006, this article was printed in the Guyana Chronicle of Sunday 26 November, 2006

In observance of World Aids Day 2006, the Guyana Chronicle begins a series of six articles on the programmes used here to fight the disease.

We begin, though, with a story of a university student, 24, currently employed at a commercial bank, who sees hope after testing positive for HIV/AIDS. His name has been withheld. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in Guyana in the 15-44 age group.

Killing myself
In 2005, I realised that I might be HIV positive. I had become very ill and lost a lot of weight. I started worrying about HIV.

I was scared of finding out the truth. I thought that I would kill myself if I was positive. I thought that it would be better not to know, and every time I heard 'HIV' I felt scared. I did not want to hear anything.

I thought that if I was HIV positive, it would be the end of my life. I did not trust any of the counselling services, since I heard many stories of confidentiality being breached. I did not have anyone to talk to about this, and my life was hell.

Deepest darkest secrets
In July 2006, I could not keep it to myself, and I confided in my best friend who knows everything about me. He urged me to do the test, but I could not bring myself to do it.

Another friend who I had recently met, seemed to me to be very considerate and confidential and opposed to discrimination. I told him how scared I was and I started to cry.

He told me that if I did not go to do the test, he would stop talking to me and tell this other guy I had a crush on. I believed he was crazy enough to do that. He also said he was going to go with me to do the test.

He and I went to do the test. My best friend also wanted to go with me, but he had to work.

Putting on a brave face
The counsellor told me about the test, and what was involved. I gave the blood. I did not feel I wanted my friend with me for the results. The counsellor asked me about the girl I had. I said nothing. She subsequently said she did not care about my sexual orientation, but I did not feel I wanted to say anything. She interpreted the results for me, and asked me if I had anything to say.

The tears came to my eyes, but I was determined not to cry. I had to leave and go back to work, and I put on a brave face and went out.

That afternoon, I told my friend the results. It was difficult. He found out that the St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital was good to go for the check up. That night I went home and cried until I slept.

Learning everything about HIV/AIDS
After a few days, I made the appointment to see the doctor and counsellor at the Mercy Hospital, Georgetown. I was scared of going to the GUM Clinic which seemed too public. I realised that people would see me going into Mercy, but that my health was important and I did not care what they would think. The HIV advertisements now made sense to me, maybe too late.

I decided to read everything I could find on the Internet and everywhere else. The doctor asked me whether I had sex with men. I thought it was important to tell him the truth, and face any discrimination. There was none. They explained the treatment to me, and took the tests.

I went back after a month to start the ARV treatment. There were many tablets. I make sure that I know what tablets I am taking to keep informed.

Quitting smoking and drinking
I used to put my cell phone on alarm to remember when to take the tablets. There were many – six in the morning, five in the night. After a while I have grown accustomed to the routine. I have a pill box which allows me to fix the tablets in dosages. Most significant, I have stopped smoking and drinking.

I have found that it is easy to have a good time like other people. I tell my friends that I get drunk easily so I would not drink beers now. I eat better now, and I exercise every night. I feel good.

I think Mummy knows
I wish my mother could know, but I know she will be upset. Unlike cancer and TB and diabetes, she probably thinks that HIV is preventable. I try to hide the tablets from them – my mother and my siblings. I also try to leave the TV at any programme talking about HIV/AIDS. I do not think my mother would put me out if she knows; she would probably be upset with me for a little bit.

I do not know when I would tell her or the rest of my family. She has seen me ill and has dropped hints, but I don’t answer her. I think Mummy knows.

Telling other people

I told another friend. He cried with me for half an hour. He used to call me regularly before I told him, but I have not heard much from him since. I think because I stopped drinking and smoking and probably not wanting to go out.

Last year, I had unprotected sex with someone who I have feelings for and who has feelings for me. We thought that we could trust each other. I told him a few weeks ago to go and do a test since I am now HIV positive. It was difficult for me to do. He said he would go. I have to check with him.

Scared of being fired
I saw something at my workplace, where they say something that they will not unknowingly screen people for HIV. I do not want them to know my status, since I am scared of being fired. I do not know if they have any laws to stop that from happening. I keep my business to myself.

Before the test, I sometimes lost focus, and one time my manager asked me if everything was okay. I told her after I had accepted my test results that everything is fine.

I would like to educate others, to tell them what I know

I want to educate other people, to encourage them to do the test if they think they are positive and to start the treatment. People should not think that 'not knowing is best'. Before, at work, whenever they started talking about HIV at work, I used to shut up. Now, I make sure I keep the conversation going and talk about what I know, like how people are more likely to die from diabetes or heart disease complications rather than HIV/AIDS.

I have not thought of joining any organisation. I think it would be nice to meet other people who are HIV positive so as to share what is happening with us.

I am living
Death is the last thing on my mind. I am determined to live well with HIV. I have been inspired by other stories, like that of Magic Johnson [American basketball player who is HIV positive]. I believe I am responsible for myself and have to keep a positive outlook on life.

Whenever I get depressed, I call my best friend. I would like to continue my education, and to get a better job, and to do all the things which I had planned to do. Now, I appreciate life even more.

(** Our thanks to the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination for allowing us to use this story. In tomorrow’s issue, we examine the work of two Hindu organisations in removing myths about how the disease is spread and how they preach abstinence as the best way to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

SASOD's note about the ERC delay

Letter published in Stabroek News and Kaieteur News of 22 November, 2006
Dear Editor,

The news that the South African parliament has voted
to legalise same sex marriages is encouraging.

This, at a time when South Africa faces serious
problems with crime, the spread of the HIV/AIDS
epidemic and poverty, demonstrates the commitment to
human rights even as, in other places, homophobic
leaders try to turn energies to preventing rights of
gay and lesbian citizens while ignoring issues such as
poverty and poor governance.

In Mexico City, same sex unions are also now
recognised, while in Buenos Aires, the laws which
criminalised the travesti (cross dressing) have been

As these trends emerge in the Global South, the
Caribbean continues to be plagued by homophobia and
excuses for homophobia. It is now almost a year since
SASOD has applied to the Ethnic Relations Commission
to exercise their mandate to "encourage and create
respect for religious, cultural and other forms of
diversity in a plural society" and rule on the
permission given by the State entities to promote
homophobic lyrics in the public venues.(
The Ethnic Relations Commission has not considered the

It is unknown whether the ERC has decided that
homosexuals are not worthy of human rights and respect
in a diverse society.

The tolerance of a call to kill is an indictment of
the society, especially since no one knows who next
will be targeted.

Yours faithfully,

Members of SASOD

Monday, November 06, 2006

Public Discussion International Day of Tolerance

SASOD held a discussion on Thursday 16 November, 2006 at Oasis Too,

Philip's rendition of the song Hero "So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you'll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you "
closed off an evening of brief but interesting discussions around tolerance and acceptance.

The discussion started a bit late, as things usually do in Guyana. The evening light was beautiful through the Oasis Too windows, and a warm atmosphere was created before we started. Scheherazade Ishoof was our first speaker and she approached tolerance looking at Voltaire and Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthal , one of the translators of the Quran. A quotation from voltaire " "
This little globe, which is but a point, rolls through space, as do many other globes; we are lost in the immensity of the universe. Man, only five feet high, is assuredly only a small thing in creation. One of these imperceptible beings says to another one of his neighbors, in Arabia or South Africa: 'Listen to me, because God of all these worlds has enlightened me: there are nine hundred million little ants like us on the earth, but my ant-hole is the only one dear to God; all the other are cast off by Him for eternity; mine alone will be happy, and all the others will be eternally damned."

They would then interrupt me, and ask which fool blabbed all this nonsense. I would be obliged to answer, "You, yourselves." I would then endeavor to calm them, which would be very difficult."

Tolerance was explored as a religious virtue, often misinterpreted by religious fundamentalists who needed to exploit power. Examples were given of the times when Muslims demonstrated tolerance and acceptance, and points were raised to show expressions of tolerance in the Quran. Omar Bissoon argued that tolerance was not acceptable, since it meant to endure that which was abhorrence, and that in divided societies, tolerance alone could not bring peace. He cited various discussions on tolerance in which people indicated that they 'hated' tolerance, and preferred respect and acceptance. Projects based on tolerance would be doomed since the basis was not valid, and the promotion of acceptance was necessary for differences- different religion, political views, sexuality, race, gender. He stressed the need for understanding and empathy , and the desire to know of other people to empathise with them. The quote from Oscar Wilde"
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
concluded his presentation.
Omar's full presentation could be downloaded here
Philomena Pilgrim from GPlus asked for no discrimination for people living with HIV AIDS, since HIV has no face, and it crosses race, class, gender. She stated the problems of discrimination. Karen Hall talked about facing discrimination as a person with a disability, and about overcoming that to find alliances and to rise through that. The questions and discussion afterwards were to seek clarification on perceptions of Islam as violent, of recognising the difference between tolerance and acceptance..
Thanks to Keimo who sang Stand Up to enhance the message of the evening.. and encouraged us to ask Phillip to do his song which made us feel like Heroes for continuing to stand up to discrimination.

SASOD Movie Night - Dangerous Living, Tuesday 14 November, 2006

Venue : Sidewalk Cafe, Middle Street, Georgetown

Time : 7:30pm

"While much art has focused on gay culture in America, less attention has been paid to the experiences of non-western gay communities. Director John Scagliotti turns his camera to that exact subject in this one-hour documentary hosted by Janeane Garofalo. Using interviews and personal accounts of mistreatment, persecution, and abuse, director John Scagliotti reveals the challenges that many gay and lesbian people face when deciding whether or not to come out of the
closet. Featured locations include Egypt, India, Vietnam, and Honduras among others."
running time : 62 minutes

We had an audience of about 16 persons. Feedback indicated that the film was interesting.
"For me it was very enlightening! and here's a
success story - my friend is sort of homophobic. I
didn't tell him what kind of film we were going to
watch until we were outside. He wanted to turn back
and I convinced him to go in on the basis that if he
didn't like what he saw we'll leave. He stayed until
the end and when i asked him how was it, he said he
now appreciates the challenges that gays and lesbians
face and his tolerance for such issues has increased."