Gays in marriage of convenience to beat stigma

HARARE - Steve is a 43-year-old gay man who for seven years was married to a woman. But then things — because of his sexual orientation — never gelled and now he is caught in a love triangle.

Scared of being labelled, Steve is maintaining his heterosexual relationship with his wife. On the side, he is bedding Adam, his employee.

Forced into marriage by cultural demands, Steve married pretty and petite Nyarai.

Although he made his parents happy, Steve says he is still haunted by his decision which has come with deadly consequences.

Now Nyarai, Steve and Adam are infected with the HIV virus.

Marrying and fathering children, especially males, preoccupy the imaginations of most cultural men — as continuity of family name is guaranteed through fathering boys.

Speaking to the Daily News on Sunday, Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (Galz) president Chester Samba said gay men in Zimbabwe are pressured into marriages of convenience and consequently fuel the spread of HIV/Aids.

“Gay men are pressured in marriages and at the same time maintain the gay relationships, leading to three people being at risk of being infected with sexually transmitted infections and the HIV virus,” he said.

Socially marginalised groups such as the gay community are the missing link in the fight against HIV and Aids, experts say.

Men having sex with men (MSM) rarely receive targeted HIV health services.

Gays and lesbians activists say there is an urgent need to expand access to proven HIV prevention programmes for gay and bisexual men, and to develop new approaches to fight HIV in this population.

Once described by President Robert Mugabe as “worse than pigs and dogs”, gays in Zimbabwe fear the worst from a conservative society that frowns upon them as malcontents.

Public perception as well as stigmatisation and discrimination are some of the hurdles impeding data collection and targeted funding and programming, health experts and activist say.

“There are gaps in HIV programmes which exclude members of socially marginalised groups such as the gay community who are also part of the society at large. The fight against HIV/Aids will not be won if this group is not actively involved in these programmes and health services,” Samba said.

He said that members of the gay community are unable to receive health services because of the stigmatisation and discrimination by health workers in most health institutions in the country.

Claiming to have over a 1 000 active membership, Galz, which has in the past claimed that some of its members are high profile political and business people who enjoy sex with other men, says authorities should act fast.

Henry Madzorera, the minister of Health and Child Welfare, says there is evidence showing the long-term effects of heterosexual unions such as the marriage institution like the one in Steve is trapped in.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) there is an increase in the number of new infections among the MSM group.

Infections among MSM rose by 12 percent, with an even steeper increase among the youngest MSM, WHO noted.
The growing gay community joins a list of other marginalised groups in the country such as prisoners and people living with disabilities and injection drug users.

A ministry of health official revealed that the HIV prevalence rate in Zimbabwe prisons stands at 27 percent,  a figure almost double the national prevalence rate.

Authorities agree homosexuality is rife in prison.

The Zimbabwe Prisons Services is on record saying that they would not allow HIV and Aids preventative measures such as condoms within their high walls as this would fuel illicit behaviour among inmates.

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