FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Krishna Stone | 212.367.1016
New York, NY — In commemoration of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (5/17), activists from the Caribbean and New York City came together on Tuesday, May 15 to urge LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations to continue fighting for human rights for gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), lesbians, bisexual, and transgender individuals around the world.
The forum, held at GMHC's new headquarters on West 33rd Street, was co-hosted by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research; the Elton John AIDS Foundation; International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC); United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and GMHC. The event featured four prominent activists-Eric Castellanos, Pauline Park, Christopher Quarles and Luke Maurice Sinnette-and was moderated by Aiden Frye. Each panelist shared his or her personal story, highlighting the importance of fighting for human rights for all people, especially in the developing world.
"We need to empower our global community so that we can finally gain human rights for all," said Eric Castellanos, President of the Collaborative Network of Persons Living with HIV in Belize (C-NET+Belize).
Castellanos, who described the homophobia he experienced as a teenager in Belize, has been living with HIV since 1995 and is forced to meet with fellow LGBT and HIV/AIDS activists "in the shadows" because of his country's punitive laws against homosexuality.
He and the other panelists emphasized that the LGBT community was not seeking special treatment from their governments, but full equality. Commenting on President Barack Obama's recent endorsement of same-sex marriage, Castellanos said, "We see marriage as a dream only. Right now we're struggling to stay alive, to stay out of prison."
Pauline Park, a transgender woman living in Queens who is Chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA), said access to health care is one the biggest issues she sees among her transgender friends. It has become, she said, a human rights issue.
"Many trans people I know do not have access to quality health care, or do not have health care at all," Park said. "It's not just hormones, but more basic stuff. We all deserve access to the care we need to stay healthy."
Christopher Quarles, whose South Carolina-based family shunned him after he came out of the closet, stressed the rights of all LGBT youth-many of whom end up in New York City.
"So many youth end up becoming infected with HIV," said Quarles, who is living with HIV. "We need to protect them all, but we also need to get them all tested. Sometimes the hardest step is just getting through the door and taking the test."
Luke Sinnette, President of Trinidad and Tobago-based Friends for Life, emphasized that activists and funders need to recognize that empowering local, grass-roots groups everywhere should be the priority-not pressuring governments to act in the interest of their LGBT citizens.
"Sometimes when you think you're being helpful, you're not," Sinnette said, citing examples of his own government, which has increased its persecution of LGBT citizens because of a perceived Western influence. "We want to know that you're behind us and appreciate all the help. Use your influence to empower me and other groups to do the actual work."
Castellanos thanked the groups for co-hosting the forum, and for "doing the work for our organizations that our governments are not."
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world's leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested more than $340 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide.
GMHC is a not-for-profit, volunteer-supported and community-based organization committed to national leadership in the fight against AIDS. We provide prevention and care services to men, women and families that are living with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS in New York City. We advocate for scientific, evidence-based public health solutions for hundreds of thousands worldwide.