YVC releases new discussion paper -“Young and High”

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05th June 2018, Bangkok – Youth Voices Count, today released a discussion paper titled,” Young and High” (link here “Young and High”), which explores the emerging reality of drug use by young gay, bisexual men and other young men who have sex with men in sexualized settings. The discussion paper brings data from three cities in the region including Bangkok, Ho Chi Min and Jakarta collected through an online survey and 9 key informant interviews.

Young people across the HIV response, irrespective of identities or behavior patterns have been left behind. Over 2000 young people are infected with HIV every day which accounts to over one third of all new HIV infections a day. HIV prevalence among those who are between 15 – 24 is on the increase in Asia and the Pacific region with countries such as China, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Philippines and Myanmar accounting to an HIV prevalence of over 5% among young key populations. Discussions on “high-fun” in many contexts is considered controversial as it relates to two “criminalized” activities; same sex sexual activities and drugs are criminalized in many countries in the region. Other related aspects of high fun including “increased” sexual pleasure, prolonged sexual activities, sex with multiple partners in a group or “orgys”, sexual adventure taking and etc. have also contributed to consider “high-fun” as a controversial topic.

The key findings of the discussion paper reveal that young gay, bisexual men and other young men who have sex with men are burdened by psychosocial issues, stigma and discrimination which contributes to initiate and maintain drug use. The need to be loved, to feel belonged and accepted and the psychological struggles in accepting sexualities feed in to this rising phenomenon. In addition, condoms are still perceived to be interrupting sexual pleasure and unfriendliness in HIV health services prevent them from accessing them. Further, young gay bisexual men and other young men who have sex men who use drugs in sexualized settings are seldom aware of available harm reduction services.

The discussion paper recommends that addressing mental health issues of young people in general and young LGBTIQ people in particular should be integrated in to the HIV response. Service providers need to be trained to identify mental health issues and provide referrals to appropriate services. Harm reduction services should be integrated in to HIV health services with particular attention to drug use in sexualized settings. Innovative prevention methods such as PrEP should be made available to all key populations with particular attention given to those who are most vulnerable among the key populations.

More information

Niluka Perera
Regional Coordinator
Youth Voices Count

Justin Francis Bionat
Project Officer
Youth Voices Count

The importance of Legal Gender Recognition in the HIV and AIDS Service Delivery – Philippines

The right to recognition before the law is enshrined in the Yogyakarta Principles as the most basic aspect of self-determination, dignity and freedom. Legal gender recognition for transgender women allows them to navigate freely in daily life while being allowed to identify with the gender that they identify with. This, unfortunately, is complicated in the vast majority of Asian countries with diverse legal systems and other pervasive religions and cultures. In the Philippines, there are no official options – a legal gender recognition law, policy or regulation – for transgender people in the Philippines to change name details on official documents.

One of the most notable legal challenges for transgender women in gaining legal recognition in the Philippines, is a landmark case in 2007 when the Supreme Court ruled against a transgender woman who had undergone gender-affirming surgery and wished to change her first name and gender marker on her birth certificate.
The identification documents of a person is required in daily activities and trans people face marginalization when they use identity verification documents that does not match their gender identity and expression. This extends to other challenges in accessing health and HIV services. Legal gender recognition should be a public health priority.
It is clearly visible in the February 2018 HIV/AIDS and ART Registry in the Philippines (HARP) that transgender women are lumped with the “men who have sex with men” (MSM) population in reporting the modes of transmission of key affected populations (KAPs). The cumulative data showing 25,704 cases of “male-male sex mode of transmission” since January 1984 include transgender women.

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While the HARP shows the MSM data to include transgender women, the Department of Health Epidemiology Bureau – Integrated HIV Behavioral and Serologic Surveillance (IHBSS) has separated transgender women from MSM and considered them part of the “most-at-risk populations”. They have been doing this since 2013 because HIV has shown to highly burden transgender women globally. The IHBSS shows data of both gender identity and gender expression, individually.

With both the HARP and the IHBSS showing HIV prevalence among transgender women, service delivery and inclusive policies become necessary. High levels of social exclusion, gender-based violence, discrimination, and marginalization challenges transgender women from accessing services, damaging their health and wellbeing, and putting them at higher risk of HIV. For more specific cases transgender women facing criminal prosecution, incarceration with male inmates can also put them at risk of sexual assault. Transgender women are 49 times more likely to acquire HIV than cisgender adults of reproductive age. In countries where transgender women who are excluded from national HIV surveillance systems, the risk of HIV infection increases because of exclusion from health services.

Legal gender recognition in the Philippines, and other countries in Asia, will eliminate the exclusion of transgender women in the HIV delivery network and registry, and lessen the disproportionate burden of structural barriers on transgender women in accessing services. The legalization of changes in the gender marker and legal name for transgender women would facilitate a wider reach of service provision and would promote inclusive health facilities.
As a key determinant, any law, policy, and practice, or lack thereof, which obstruct the self-determination of gender identity will threaten the goal of ending AIDS by 2030. As we move forward in our battle to end AIDS in the Philippines and in Asia, legal gender recognition will create inclusive communities that uphold each individual’s right to self-determination as we leave no one behind.

Justin Francis Bionat
Project Officer
Youth Voices Count

Youth Voices Count celebrates IDAHOT with #UnityForYouth Meme Campaign

This year’s International Day against Homophoba, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) has a global theme, “Alliances for Solidarity, inviting agencies, organizations, individuals and allies to take a collective stand to fight intolerable acts of discrimination, oppression, marginalization and exclusion of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community. The world today is in the forefront of battling systematic injustices against the LGBTIQ community and this IDAHOT, it is more crucial, than ever, to join hands and collectively stand for equality and acceptance.

Ha Bach

Youth Voices Count joins this year by starting an interactive meme campaign calling on our partners, members and allies to send in a message of solidarity for the LGBTIQ community, especially young people who are highly affected by these social inequalities.

Today, we share to you some of the powerful voices who stood up and accepted the commitment to stand for the youth. Working under our hashtag, #UnityForYouth, we are pleased to share with you these messages.

Amasai Jeke

“Click on this link to see the full album of memes from our Facebook page: “Click on this link to see the full album of memes from our Facebook page

“Because I could not fit in the pink and blue boxes of the society”

A 17 year old guy runs away from his house to find his real self, the authentic self but that lil soul didn’t know then that this life completes its circle, at last you end up where you started from.

“I was always a topic to crack jokes on at school and also among family, my childhood is nothing but a bad memory”, says Rovin.

In spite of facing so many atrocities, harassment, assaults, bullying he didn’t quit. The fight actually started the day he ran away and possibly will go on till the day he takes his last breath. From working at a placement firm to working with the Fortune 500 best companies, he worked everywhere to earn his bread and butter ignoring the harassment that he goes through at the workplaces regularly.

“Earning livelihood, finding accommodation, or walking down the streets being “authentic” , is not cakewalk in India. You have to go through this trauma and pain every single day, until you follow the gender norms of the society or kill yourself”

After leaving all the four organizations within a span of 4 years, he was sure about the fact that neither did he want to beg on the streets nor did he want to get into sex work. Before fighting with the world one has to fight with one’s self and know what one wants for one’s self.

“Take care of the small things and big things will automatically fall in place”, says Rovin.

Rovin Sharma now uses the singular “they” pronouns and identify as “Genderqueer”, based out of Delhi and working for the visibility of gender non-conforming and non-binary folks, who are an important part of “Trans” community but are often neglected.

“Anybody who doesn’t fit in the binary of Male or Female is a “Transgender” and it’s a modern umbrella term which doesn’t just mean hijras “, says Rovin.

Rovin now is an ambassador to the LaLit Hospitality Group for Transgender Folks and working very closely in sensitizing the organization towards LGBTIQ people forming an Inclusive space that celebrates Diversity. The group has introduced all-inclusive toilets, gender neutral pronouns, gender neutral honorific titles and an ungendered manner of conversation. Rovin also stresses on the need of “comprehensive sexuality education” not only at colleges and schools but at workplaces too.

Rovin also performs drag as “Roveena Tampon” and is among the first few Drag Queens in India. Kitty Su is the first Night Club to introduce Drag Culture in India and behind all this is the queen of queens “Keshav Suri” – Executive Director of The LaLit Hospitality Group.

“Making drag mainstream in a country like India, where something like this is always looked down upon is a Revolution”, says Tampon.
India has acknowledged “third gender” but still doesn’t know what that means. UT has a Transgender Welfare Board that is focusing on the university level education which is fabulous.

“But dear board what are you doing about the trans children who are thrown out of their houses even before they finish their high school?”, asks Rovin.
We have a long way to go as a world but people like Rovin has a great vision for not just the country but the world.

“We leave you out always because you are not a boy”

Tung is a 26-year-old young gay man from Vietnam who is currently working with Light House Social Enterprise, an organization working with LGBT community on sexual and reproductive health issues. Light House also has special initiatives targeting young gay men and young transgender people in relation to HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Tung, currently lives in Hanoi and is originally from a small village in central Vietnam. Recalling his growing up as a young person in the heart of the country, Tung talks of the hardships he had to face because people thought he was different.

“Growing up I knew I was different, and I thought that there is something wrong with me because that is what everyone thought of me”

Tung faced a lot of discrimination in his village because he was perceived to be different mainly because he was not behaving as a typical boy in the eyes of his neighbors. The school was not much different to his experience in the village. His school mates bullied him, harassed him and called him names. He was always left out of their games and once Tung asked his best friend why he is always left out and the answer shocked Tung but at the same time motivated him to find his own ways to tackle it.

“we leave you out always because you are not a boy”

Tung’s coping mechanism was to get deeply engaged in his studies with an ambition to leave his small village and migrate to a larger city where he does not have to face any discrimination”

“All this bullying and harassing made me study harder because I wanted to get out of my small village”

Tung recalls that any information on gender and sexuality was impossible to come by in his school. His teachers did not talk about such issues because they themselves didn’t know. He was isolated and as many other young LGBTQ people, he thought that he is the only one in the world. He could not talk to any teachers or friends about his feelings because that would have surely brought more bullying. Being gay or simply not adhering to typical gender roles was strongly discouraged at school and therefore gave legitimacy to all the bullying and harassment that he had to endure as a young person.

Reminiscing the hardships, he had to go through, Tung emphasizes the importance of comprehensive sexuality education at the school level.

“Such information could have made me more confident. If those who bullied me had such information they would not have done so and the school environment would have been much safer for all students”

Tung also insist on the importance of creating protection mechanisms at the schools through the introduction of comprehensive sexuality education in order to protect students who identify with minority sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions. He suggests that acceptance of diversity should be promoted within schools through regular sensitizing of teachers, principals and students to create safe enabling education spaces for students.