Friday, 16 October 2015

Raise your voice against stigma and homophobia

Speaking out against prejudice is a vital step towards changing community attitudes that stigmatise people with HIV and people who are at greater risk of contracting HIV.
When people raise their voices against stigma, it makes it easier for people who have HIV, who are gay, who use drugs, or are sex workers, to access the information, prevention tools, and treatments and care that they need to stay safe and well. Faith leaders play a critical role in the response to HIV through model compassion and supporting evidence-based approaches to HIV prevention and care.

In July 2015, AFAO’s African Reference Group[i] hosted a one day national meeting for faith leaders connected to African communities.
The agenda included a strong focus on stigma and homophobia. People living with HIV and a gay man from African backgrounds spoke out about their experience of stigma and the role of faith in their lives – or their loss of faith as a result of discrimination from their faith communities.

In this post, AFAO’s contribution to the Blog Action Day campaign ‘Raise your Voice’, we asked participants why it’s important for faith leaders to raise their voices about HIV-related stigma and homophobia.

Imam Nur Warsame


Imam Nur Warsame is 3rd from left.

Why is it important for faith leaders to raise their voice and speak out about HIV-related stigma and discrimination?
It is important because faith leaders represent the communities they service and their words have weight. They cannot be stuck in old ways and have to relate to the current environment. HIV-related stigma and discrimination, or any type of discrimination, is unacceptable in Islam and it can be eliminated if faith leaders have the courage to take a stand on such a principle. 

Why is it important for faith leaders to raise their voice and challenge homophobia?
They have the power to challenge homophobia from a leadership perspective. Homophobia and trans-phobia has unfortunately existed in Muslim communities for a long time, and faith leaders can take a more inclusive and accepting role as Islam preaches. Faith leaders have the opportunity and privilege to make these changes on a large scale.

How did AFAO’s National Faith Leaders Meeting support you to raise your voice about these issues?
We connected with others who are on the same page and established future networks for positive change, however it was sad to only see one Imam present. Nevertheless, it was a step in the right direction and I commend AFAO for organising such a productive event.

Aynalem Tessema

Emmanuel Evangelical Church
Senior Settlement Services Worker, Auburn Diversity Services

Aynalem Tessema (right) with Menelik Haylemariam,
an Ethiopian  church leader.
Why is it important for faith leaders to raise their voice and speak out about HIV-related stigma and discrimination?
Faith leaders have got respect and trust from their community. They are influential people, they have life experience, and wisdom, they know the culture and values and beliefs of their community. They can explain things and people accept what they say.

Stigma can cause people to have mental health problems, if no-one talks about these things. Some cultures don’t want to talk about HIV, they think of it as a punishment, so it’s important for faith leaders to reach out educate people and pass on the message that there is a lot of support for people with HIV.

Why is it important for faith leaders to raise their voice and challenge homophobia?
Everyone has a choice to do what they want. Our culture is different, but we need to understand each other. Education and understanding about how other people live is very important.

How did AFAO’s National Faith Leaders Meeting support you to raise your voice about these issues?
It was very helpful. I learned a lot of things, especially from those affected by HIV [the positive speakers]. They stood up and talked, this was a great thing for the community, especially the woman who spoke.  It’s very hard for a person to do that, but when she stands and speaks out, she saves the next generation.

Some people with HIV don’t speak about it and they are hiding and dying, so she was amazing, I thought ‘the chains are breaking’. It was very hopeful. A lot of people at the meeting learned from that, it was a really good life story.

Callixte Hakizimana

Free Pentecostal Church of Australia Inc (QLD)

Why is it important for faith leaders to raise their voice and speak out about HIV-related stigma and discrimination?
It is very important for the faith leader to raise their voice in regards to these issues because faith leaders are trusted people in the community and provide various advice on how to live physically and spiritually. However they may have people in their congregation who are being victimised by HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

Why is it important for faith leaders to raise their voice and challenge homophobia?
Faith leaders must raise their voice in homophobia matters to avoid the loss of members of the faith community. Abide with the human rights laws and protect community members who may have these issues, and introduce them to the service providers who can address their issues.



Beth Chigwada

Evangelical Christian
Sharing Stories Coordinator, Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre (WA)

Beth Chigwada, second from left.
Why is it important for faith leaders to raise their voice and speak out about HIV-related stigma and discrimination?
There is no place for stigma and discrimination in true Christianity because the foundation of the Christian faith is Jesus who extends unconditional and redeeming love to all people and to all nations. Last time I checked that included people living with HIV.

Why is it important for faith leaders to raise their voice and challenge homophobia?
 “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” – Rick Warren (American evangelical Christian pastor and author). 

We are all made by God, in His image, with great inherent value. As Christians, we believe we have received undeserving grace from our LORD not by our efforts but through Christ alone. Let us shape our responses to people based on these truths.

How did AFAO’s National Faith Leaders Meeting support you to raise your voice about these issues?
The meeting provided opportunities to hear and learn from various faith leaders and sector experts as well as those living with HIV. In my personal experience, Christian leaders have demonstrated tremendous amounts of love and grace to marginalised people. However, I believe it was important to listen to people who have experienced homophobia or stigma from the church. It was important to listen, to acknowledge and to apologise. This worked as a good example and springboard for our Western Australia state initiatives.


See photos from the faith leaders meeting here


[i] AFAO’s African Reference Group was established in 2010 to assist with organising the first National African Forum on HIV in May 2011. The group advises AFAO on policy and health promotion issues related to African Australian communities. It is composed of representatives of African communities and HIV and multicultural health service providers in ACT, NSW, QLD, SA, Vic and WA.

No comments:

Post a Comment