It’s been said that the LGBTQIA+ community is a high-risk group. I believe that anyone is at a high-risk despite their gender, orientation or status if they are into more than one partner. There is no judgment in these statements, just a stated need of being self-dependent and self-aware. It is not a hidden fact that most of the LGBTQIA+ community is also the most deprived of equal rights and laws that make them feel equal. No right to marry, adopt, have a say in your partner’s health in a hospital because you are not family, no right to buy a home as a couple, and then you have acceptance as an issue where you are looked down upon for just being you in so many ways.
In all this, we forget that education is also something many in this community are deprived of. Thrown out of the house at different stages of life for being different is most common in the gay and transgender woman community. Without a home at an early age, priorities change and people switch to easy money, especially because no one gives them a job like an equal in good firms (though there is a slow change). They tend to become sex-workers and or turn to sex for attention so that they can be accepted in some way.
But no one teaches the LGBTQIA+ about safety. People urge them to do it without safety and offer more money to them because they want it that way. There are other concerns like condom tear, drugs (which is a very big issue in the community because like alcohol, this is becoming easy to get and no one cares about this community to keep a tab on it), easy access to a lot of apps and ways to connect with people who want the same thing like drugs or orgies has become the new thing.
In all this, one question is being raised at all times. That is how to protect this community while it cannot protect itself. Sec 377 is gone, and for good… but it still left the community to pick up the pieces and stand up to walk on their own. People are still worried about equal rights to marry, adopt, donate blood and more but while (whenever) all these rights are being achieved, many are succumbing to become positive with HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis B & C and other STDs.
Everyone says they do not feel good when they wear a condom. No one tells them to get tested unless an NGO or a well-wisher offers them an opportunity. In all this, how can we break into the minds of people who cannot understand the need of the hour. If I do not test, is it okay to worry about my right to marry? If I am positive, will anyone marry me – in this society full of stigma. We are worried about everything but about taking care of ourselves.
Condom + PrEP seems to be the new ray of hope in the community. Everyone who is sexually active should adopt this regime of using PrEP (a tablet a day) and using a condom every time they indulge in sex with anyone – despite having a partner because monogamy is almost extinct. I may be over thinking this, but when I hear people who come to test for HIV at our center, we see people of all orientation, gay or straight and its clear that sex is more easily available through an app than love.
Having said that, I started PrEP myself with DrSafeHands.com, who are kind enough to share their office space with my NGO which is Color Positive Foundation. There used to be a saying in the LGBTQIA+ community that, “Someday, I may turn positive because there is no way for me to know if the person I am with is positive.”
But now, I say that, “No matter what your status, I am safe because I have protected myself with condoms and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis”. Having HIV today medically is no biggie because one can lead a normal life with their wife/partners and their partner can be on PrEP and stay Negative and even have children who will be born Negative under a doctor’s supervision… but the stigma around HIV is still as old as it used to be. I have many friends I know who are positive and nothing has changed between us or in their lives… but they tell me that the hate and the fear is as bad as trying to come out of the closet for a Gay person. That is why we all fear HIV. I hope the stigma fades away in time and a medical breakthrough takes away this burden from the lives of my friends who I know are special no matter their status. While such magic is still in the pipeline, all I need is a condom and a bottle of PrEP to help me from this stigma and thanks to Dr. Safe Hands, YRG and other great organizations, PrEP is offered at a much lower cost now than in the drug stores.
All one has to do is google them up and call them and they will make it as easy as 1, 2 & 3.
Savio Mascarenhas Founder, Director
Color Positive Foundation.