|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
Nigeria’s LGBT community has discovered a safe space in the comfort of the community centre set up by the Integrated MSM HIV Prevention Program (IMHIPP) currently being implemented in four states across the country.
Funded by USAID, Heartland Alliance for Human need and Human rights partner with the following local organizations; The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), Pure Professionals for Human Rights Advocacy, Initiative for Improved Male Health and International Centre for the Advocacy of Health Rights. The four states are, Lagos, Rivers, Cross River states and the FCT, Abuja.
Temitope Olaniyi Oke the Program officer TIERS/IMHIPP, 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 STIs. Realising 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 Centre.”
Oke added, “Through this program, IMHIPP has created a Community Centre. Based upon needs assessment the Centre has three units. These are a social interaction unit, a skill acquisition unit and a 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 centre was established under a MSM/HIV program, it is open to LGBTI persons in general. The community centre has been of immense benefits to the MSM community. The centre 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 centre. Support group of MSM living with HIV/Aids is also hosted at the centre to increase access to psychosocial/ adherence counselling and palliative care materials.
A community centre user expressed “I am a beneficiary of the community centre activities. Now I make beads for living. Thanks to the skill acquisition activity at the centre.”
“I like it here it is my second home” Another community centre user told BTM.
Activities at the centre 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.