Men who have sex with men (MSM) and Transgender Men and Women have been historically marginalised within Southern African communities and face stigma and discrimination regardless of their HIV status. HIV prevalence among MSM in South Africa is high, sitting at 26.8% in 2017. Many of the studies and trials we undertake at DTHF are aimed at these high-risk populations.
Designated community liaison and counselling staff at the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (DTHF) have been developing relationships and networks with community leaders and stakeholders who regularly engage with the LGBTQIA+ community for many years now. This work is essential in tailoring our services to suit the unique needs of the communities we serve.
After meeting with community leaders in the MSM community, DTHF staff identified the need for safe spaces, where members are able to meet and connect with one another in a safe and open environment.
“By supporting the Safe Space network, the outreach and research staff at the DTHF has been able to engage with the Cape Town LGBTQI+ community in a way that has created a partnership to support our research among the LGBTQI+ community and for the promotion of LGBTQI+ Health and Rights in South Africa. In the coming year we intend to expand on this programme, strengthen the partnerships we have and create new partnerships.”
- Dr. Richard Kaplan, DTHF Key Populations division.
Between 2014 and 2019, the DTHF helped to establish 11 safe spaces in the Cape Town metropolitan area. Within these safe spaces, members found solidarity and support in shared experiences, and united around common struggles. Discussions focused on the fears and barriers regarding the safety of the MSM community, and what needs the DTHF was able to cater to with their programmes.
Planned outdoor activities created a sense of comradery and empowerment. These spaces improved feelings of self-efficacy and resilience among MSM attendees and lessened the felt impact of external discrimination. Given their positive impact, the DTHF and leaders of the MSM community are actively looking to expand these safe spaces to reach more individuals.
Creating safe spaces empowers vulnerable communities, increases feelings of self-efficacy and resilience, and reduces self-stigma. These activities are essential for engaging communities that are at high-risk for HIV acquisition and must play a role in promoting HIV prevention and treatment.