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Will our greatest ever ally be Trumped?

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Barack Obama leaves office as the most powerful supporter of LGBTI people ever.
obamaIn his last week in office, President Barack Obama, the man who has occupied the most powerful position in the world for 8 years, showed again what a potent ally he has been of LGBTI people: he commuted the 35 year sentence given to Chelsea Manning to about 5, and he pardoned a man who spent a year in prison for gay activity in the army.
Manning is the transgender army intelligence analyst who has been serving a 35-year sentence for passing data to WikiLeaks when she was Bradley Manning. She will now be released from prison on 17 May this year.
Manning has twice attempted suicide since July. The second attempt took place last October while Manning was in solitary confinement as punishment for the first suicide attempt.
A petition seeking Manning’s early release had been launched and stated: ‘Chelsea is a woman in a men’s facility facing ongoing mistreatment. She has attempted suicide and has been punished with additional time in solitary confinement for her desperation. Her life is at risk and you can save her.’
It also stated: ‘Chelsea has already served more time in prison than any individual in United States history who disclosed information in the public interest. Her disclosures harmed no one.’
Manning ended a hunger strike in September after the US Army agreed to provide her with gender confirming surgery.
In the second case, Obama pardoned Peter Heidgerd a Georgia man who spent a year in prison for being gay.
Heidgerd was a captain in the US Army who was court-martialed for relationship with fellow soldier. He was convicted in 1989 of conduct unbecoming an officer. Because of his prison record (what they call in American a “felony conviction”) his employment opportunities have been severely hampered. With this pardon the slate is wiped clean.
Heidgerd said after hearing the news: ‘I’ve never arrived. I’ve never been allowed to arrive. But I have been the person I wanted to be. I knew whatever I was as a person that I needed to love me and be me.’
Obama signed a bill repealing the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military on 23 December 2010 after more than 13,000 troops had been discharged under the policy. Read about Obama’s other LGBTI affirming actions on the centerspread of the February issue of Exit, or on Gay Star News now.
I write this on 20 January, the day that Obama leaves office. Will all he has done for the LGBTI community be Trumped? It is surely impossible, as the changes to American society (which have inevitably rippled around the world) have been too profound. Gays and lesbians are proudly out in the American Armed Services, there have been gay American Ambassadors, Hillary Clinton as the Presidential candidate (who won millions more votes than the man who is becoming president) made numerous public speeches to rousing applause in which she affirmed the position of LGBTI people in American society. Only time will tell….

Young Heroes Project empowers youth about sexuality and health

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Young men who have sex with men (YMSM) are a vulnerable Key Population due to the challenges they face, such as stigma, bullying and often being ostracised by their families. YMSM are identified as being at high risk of HIV infection, sexually transmitted infections and substance abuse, as well as depression and suicide. Young men find themselves without visible role-models or a support structure after being disowned by their families and this lack of guidance is often due to discrimination and ignorance around same-sex intimacy and desire.GROUPPIC

Very little information is available about this vulnerable group in South Africa, and the information that is available is often Eurocentric and often not appropriate, nor easy to access for YMSM who are attempting to forge a non-heterosexual identity. Young Heroes aims to bridge this gap.

Anova Health Institute was prompted to initiate this innovative project, funded by the Elton John Aids Foundation (EJAF), to gather more information about YMSM, working with them directly, and to develop relevant communication models and platforms that showcase YMSM role-models, based on information garnered from these YMSM in a workshop process.

After the success of the “We The Brave” campaign, Anova and EJAF have collaborated again to provide younger men who have sex with men with the resources they need to make informed decisions about their sexual health. Young Heroes aims to provide information and resources that lend support to all young men who could potentially be grappling with the development of non-heterosexual identity. Online resources and technology will feature strongly as the project unfolds.

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George Michael dies at age 53

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GeorgeMichael3George Michael has died at the age of 53.
The Wham! singer is said to have ‘passed away peacefully at home’, according to his publicist.
Thames Valley Police said South Central Ambulance attended his property in Oxford at 1.42pm today (25 December).
Police say there were no suspicious circumstances, according to the BBC.
The gay star sold more than 100 million albums with his group and as a solo artist, becoming known for songs like Careless Whisper, Faith, and Last Christmas.
He first came out as bisexual, before officially being out as gay.
Speaking about his time with Wham! in the 1980s, Michael said: ‘I used to sleep with women quite a lot in the Wham! days but never felt it could develop into a relationship because I knew that, emotionally, I was a gay man. I didn’t want to commit to them but I was attracted to them. Then I became ashamed that I might be using them.‘
In 2009, Michael said: ‘My depression at the end of Wham! was because I was beginning to realize I was gay, not bisexual.’
In a statement, the star’s publicist said: ‘It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period.

World AIDS day message

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By Edwin Cameron, Constitutional Court of South Africa


edwin2With four short words, we can sum up all the wisdom we need to deal with HIV and AIDS effectively: prevention, testing, treatment and anti-stigma.
But behind these words lies a grief-stricken history of loss and suffering. A history of shame and fear and self-blame.
To understand the power of the four words, we have to understand our history.
Then we can understand why, as we go into World AIDs day 2016, we have so much to rejoice about. In July 2016, South Africa hosted a massive gathering, nearly 20 000 strong, of the world’s leading activists, workers, clinicians, researchers, social scientists and people living with HIV and AIDS.
The news from the conference was almost unceasingly good. New infections, though still perilously high, are generally down. More people are on treatment. More people are living longer, better more productive lives. We are tackling stigma and its root causes.
It was the second time we hosted the international AIDS conference. The last time was in 2000, 16 years ago. Then we did so under a pall of fear and dejection. President Mbeki’s disastrous connivance with AIDS-denialism was at its height. Treatment was restricted to the ultra-privileged – like me. Three years before, I had started taking anti-retroviral treatment. It saved my life. Spectacularly. And miraculously.
But for tens of millions of Africans only suffering and death lay ahead.
President Mbeki’s denialism refused to consider ARVs as part of the solution. His approach stemmed from shame – shame and stigma about a sexually transmitted mass epidemic afflicting black Africans. And, in turn, his denialism acutely exacerbated shame and stigma.
It was a testing time for rationality and the epidemic. But it was also a testing time for our constitutional values, for the Treatment Action Campaign and its allies and for the courts.
The crisis ended with a ringing victory. The Constitutional Court of Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson and Deputy Chief Justice Pius Langa issued a unanimous ruling. The Court struck down President Mbeki’s policies on antiretroviral drugs. It ordered him to start making them available. President Mbeki’s government eventually complied.
So much has changed in these 16 years, so radically. South Africa now has the world’s largest publicly-provided ARV treatment program. Over three million people are on government-provided life-saving treatment.

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We’re Braver Together: Mentally too

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Isolation and loneliness are hazardous to your health. Studies show that depression caused by feelings of alienation and isolation can be as harmful to your health as obesity, or chugging half a pack of cigarettes a day!

Health4Men is currently running a campaign encouraging men who have sex with men to go and get tested for HIV with a close friend, for support. It’s based on the premise that we are braver when we do things together. But this is not just a great strategy for how to deal with the anxiety you may have about your HIV status; it’s also a good strategy when it comes to your mental health too. Here are a few points to ponder that will help you to reach out and connect with someone if you need to, for your good mental health:NoBullies

• Everybody hurts some times. Feeling lonely is very common, and almost everyone will experience it from time to time. Things happen in our childhood that makes us feel abandoned for some or other reason, and then, when we get older, something random can trigger a memory of this feeling of abandonment, and so we become overwhelmed with a feeling of isolation or aloneness. It’s important to remember at these times that loneliness is often just a feeling and not a fact. You may feel lonely, but in truth, there are probably many people who would love the opportunity to connect with you, given the opportunity.

• Connecting with other people is the best way to deal with stress, anxiety and depression. The reason that group therapy has such a great success rate is that we all respond much better to treatment or challenges when we feel that we are “all in this together”. Being part of a collective reminds us that we are in fact not alone, which is something that depression and reclusive behaviour can allow us to start to believe is true. Joining a yoga group or a hiking society can make a world of difference to your outlook on life.

• Get over yourself. Obsessing over your life and how you feel about it can actually aggravate feelings of alienation and despair. Try to focus on others for a while and see things from their perspective. You may become inspired by how bravely other people are battling their fears and personal demons. Compassion is a strange thing, when we have compassion for others, it causes others to start treating us in a similar way, and nothing can connect two souls better than cars of compassion running on a two-way street. Kindness is the same. Relationships and marriages that work for many years have been founded on good habits of treating one another with kindness.

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