Joseph Sewedo Akoro
The LGBT community in Nigeria discovers safe space in the comfort of the community center set up by the Integrated MSM HIV Prevention Program currently being implemented in four states (Lagos, Rivers, Cross River states and the FCT, Abuja) in Nigeria.
Funded by USAID, Heartland Alliance for Human need and Human rights partner with the following local organizations; The Initiative for Equal Rights, Pure Professionals for Human Rights Advocacy, Initiative for Improved Male Health and International Center for the Advocacy of Health Rights.
Speaking with BTM’s Joseph Sewedo Akoro, Program officer TIERS/IMHIPP, Temitope Olaniyi Oke said, “Criminalization of same sex activity in Nigeria has resulted in Men who have Sex Men (MSM) hiding their sexual identity. They lack safe spaces to freely express their sexuality, share information on MSM specific information, and address issues of low self-esteem, stigma and discrimination. They are continuously faced with difficulty in accessing educational programs that can help mitigate the burden of HIV/AIDS and STI. Realizing the need to create an enabling environment for MSM to freely express themselves, it became essential to create a safe space for MSM hence the Community Center.”
Oke further mentioned, “Through this program, IMHIPP has created a Community Center. Based upon needs assessment the Center has three units – Social interaction unit, Skill acquisition unit and Healthcare unit to target MSM to address economical and social needs. These units are managed by Outreach Coordinators and supervised by the Program Officer.”
Although the center was established under a MSM/HIV program, it is open to LGBTI persons in general. The community center has been of immense benefits to the MSM community. The center has created a safe, fun and enabling environment for MSM to freely embrace and express their sexuality void of stigma and discrimination. It is packed with up to date materials focusing on healthy relationships, sexual rights, social activities, HIV/STI prevention and transmission, and vulnerability issues.
Movies are shown on a weekly basis to educate MSM/LGBTI persons on human right issues, HIV/AIDS and human sexuality. Female sexual partners and dependants also benefit from the services of the community center. Support group of MSM living with HIV/AIDS is also hosted at the center to increase access to psychosocial/ adherence counseling and palliative care materials.
A community center user expressed “I am a beneficiary of the community center activities. Now I make beads for living. Thanks to the skill acquisition activity at the center.”
“I like it here it is my second home” Another community center user told BTM.
Activities at the center serve as a platform to increase awareness on HIV/AIDS prevention, palliative care and support to MSM living with HIV/AIDS and promoting a healthy LGBT community.