LGBT Pacific Islanders in Utah face discrimination

Story and photos by SHAELYN BARBER

It takes a village to raise a child, but what happens if that child does not fit into male or female gender identities? In Pacific Islander culture, it is not an issue.

Across the Pacific Island cultures, these individuals are known by many different names. In Samoa, they are Fa’afafine. In Hawai’i, they are Māhū. In Tonga, they are Fakaleiti. These are the people who are not male or female, but somewhere in the middle: a third gender.

The third gender is an integral part of traditional Pacific Island culture, and individuals who fall into this spectrum are highly respected members of society. People who are part of the third gender category do not adhere strictly to stereotypical characteristics of male or female genders, and often display characteristics of both. The Pacific Island third gender category can include people who act or dress in a way that is not associated with the sex they were assigned at birth or people who are sexually attracted to someone of the same gender.

“It’s important to see the similarities between Māhū and transgender identities here in the U.S., but also it’s not just a direct translation,” says Maile Arvin, a native Hawaiian and assistant professor of gender studies and history at the University of Utah. “I think it’s just a little bit different than transgender in the sense that that was a defined role that was honored in Native Hawaiian society, that has its own history.”

Arvin says that traditional gender roles in Pacific Island societies are balanced and are not necessarily matriarchal or patriarchal communities. Within them, masculine and feminine roles are distinctive but receive equal amounts of respect. Men are typically the protectors, workers and financial supporters of their families. Women take on the role of caretakers of the family and the home. People who identify in one of these third-gender identities have a role within traditional Pacific Island societies as well: they are usually the leaders and teachers of spirituality and culture.

“Sometimes it’s hard for non-Hawaiian people to understand what Māhū means,” Arvin says. “So, in some contexts it might just be more convenient to identify as transgender instead of going into explanations about what Māhū is.”

People who identify as a third gender in Pacific Islander societies often find it difficult to explain the meaning to others who are not familiar with it. Despite parallels to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) identities, the two are distinct. Someone can identify with both an LGBT identity and an identity in the third-gender spectrum.

“I’m not really picky but I know that I personally identify as feminine pronouns, but then when people see me they’re like, what the heck? I don’t get it,” says Leka Heimuli, who works as a secretary for the Office for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at the Salt Lake Community College South City Campus. Heimuli is Fakaleiti, the Tongan term for the third gender, and describes herself as a gay man who prefers female pronouns and typically dresses in a masculine way.

Leka

Leka Heimuli, secretary for the Office for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at the Salt Lake Community College South City Campus

Heimuli is a first-generation Polynesian Tongan American. Her mother and father both emigrated from Tonga searching for opportunities for work, education and a better life. They met in Utah, got married and had six children, a small family by Pacific Island standards, which Heimuli says typically have between 10 and 15 children.

“I feel like when colonialism came, you know, to our shores that’s when you kind of see that drift of, oh, that’s wrong. That’s bad,” Heimuli says. “I think now we kind of use those terms in a derogatory manner.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has raised controversy because of its doctrine concerning the LGBT community. According to church doctrine sexual and marital relationships should only be between one man and one woman, and sex or marriage between two people of the same sex is forbidden. According to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, the state of Utah has the highest percentage of constituents in the United States.

“We’re here, you know, like, you can’t control it,” Heimuli says. “There are members [of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] I feel don’t come out because of like … that stigma that’s maybe placed on them from the church or maybe from the beliefs.”

Heimuli says that while the discrimination against LGBT and third-gender Pacific Islanders within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not extreme, these communities do face negative effects, comments and stigmatization from its members.

“Our belief and our history before Christianity came is that we have three genders. So, that’s a norm,” says Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, the executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR). “For some reason this plane ride, this 10-hour plane ride to America, changed that.”

Susi

Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, the executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources

No escape from danger: LGBT refugees fled to Kakuma Camp for their lives, only to be greeted with hostility

Story by KAYA DANAE

Photos by MBAZIRA MOSES and KAYA DANAE

Homophobia is pervasive in Kenya, and some LGBT refugees at Kakuma Camp say they have faced discrimination from fellow refugees and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) workers that has exacerbated living conditions in the overcrowded facility.

Mbazira Moses, a gay refugee currently living at the Kakuma Camp, said in an email interview, “I have been exposed to persecution and hostility ever since the time I arrived in Kakuma.”

Moses was assaulted and stabbed by a fellow refugee on Oct. 11, 2017. After reporting the incident to the police, Moses said nothing was done.

He claims he has been assaulted several times, but said police have never investigated. Instead of receiving help, Moses was jailed along with 18 other LGBT refugees who had peacefully protested their unfair treatment at UNHCR headquarters in Nairobi.

LGBT refugees peacefully protest at the UNHCR Headquarters in Nairobi.

After speaking with a lawyer, Moses was told to accept whatever charges were filed against him, as this was the only way he could expect assistance from UNHCR.

Established in 1992, Kakuma Camp is located in the northwestern region of Kenya. Ethiopian, Sudanese and Somali refugees fled their war-torn countries and came to Kakuma refugee camp, which is divided into four zones.

With an influx of new arrivals in 2014, Kakuma surpassed its capacity by over 58,000 individuals. The camp has expanded and currently holds 77,092 refugees, according to the UNHCR Kakuma informational pamphlet.

Moses said many of the staff at Kakuma Camp are homophobic and view the LGBT community as cursed. Individuals are not given the same opportunities as other refugees. They are not employable because of their sexual orientation and are not given proper medical treatment. Many medical centers refuse to serve them at all, he said, and if they are treated, they are often refused medication and treatment for HIV.

Moses Mbazira holds the LGBT flag in his tent at Kakuma Camp.

According to Moses and many other LGBT refugees living at Kakuma Camp, they face eviction due to homophobic neighbors, leaving them homeless in the camp. UNHCR has placed the LGBT community in a housing section next to the river, where they face flooding and mosquitoes. Many of the refugees have malaria and are not given the treatment they need. The homes themselves are just tents, not properly covered to protect from the rain.

Thirteen UNHCR employees stationed at Kakuma Camp were contacted about Moses’ allegations of mistreatment toward LGBT refugees in the camp. Only four responded, and they said they could not comment.

“Agony has brought action,” Moses said. “Many of the LGBT members who have been granted asylum and refugee status under UNHCR within Kenya, receive consistent persecutions and grief by the host community and other members living within the camp. We (LGBT Community) have articulated our concerns to UNHCR but have been overlooked. This has caused a need to call on UNHCR to permit us a convention letter that will grant us a fair free movement to seek asylum in a country where we reserve the same rights as other refugees regardless of our sexual orientation.”

Barnabas Wobilaya, 36, is a gay Ugandan refugee and HIV/AIDS activist who was resettled in Salt Lake City. He fled Uganda and arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2015. Wobilaya became an HIV/AIDS activist in Uganda because he had two siblings who lost their lives to HIV. Because of his activism, he was exposed as a gay man in the newspapers, lost his job, and had to move around a lot for his own safety.

“When you get to Kakuma, there is no housing. You arrive at the camp, and they give you land. You build your own house. They give you poles and a tent to put up yourself, some people use iron sheets for their roof,” Wobilaya said.

“The LGBT people are always the last people to get the services they need, always,” he said.

“Their cases are not being worked on. They have been there for years. Three years, five years. Cases of LGBT refugees are supposed to be fast because their need is so immediate. We suffer. I know people that have been in Kakuma since I arrived in Kenya that have still never seen their files. They don’t know what’s going on. Nothing happens.”

The resettlement process is in the hands of the Government of Kenya. Because Kenya still maintains largely homophobic outlooks  and policies, many LGBT folk are treated as criminals rather than asylum seekers and refugees.

“When I was in Kenya, I could not find a job,” Wobilaya said. “Kenyans know that many refugees from Uganda are gay. They are very homophobic. You go to the store to buy something, and they say ‘Uganda?’ and then they kick you out. You cannot buy things, if you can’t speak Swahili they will not give you service. They then say ‘these are gays’ in Swahili and you know to leave or else you will be beaten.”

LGBT refugees attempt to drain the water from the river that flooded their tent in Kakuma Camp.

Wobilaya was evicted from homes three times because his landlords discovered his sexual orientation. Many LGBT people are forced to live in Kakuma because landlords refuse to rent to them in Nairobi.

The UNHCR used to give refugees a stipend of 6,000 Kenyan shillings, which is about $60 U.S. per month. With that, they were supposed to pay their rent, medical bills, transportation cost and phone bill.

“Today they give them $45, but you have to pass an assessment that your living conditions are horrible, many people have to live in one room, a lot end up on the streets as sex workers so they can afford to live,” Wobilaya said.

“Now that I am in the States it is difficult to find ways to help. They tell me ‘we are dying’ and I can’t do much. After I pay my rent and bills I send my leftover money to my LGBT friends in Kenya. So I ask, let us help these people. Let’s fundraise. Help them to buy food,” Wobilaya said.

At Kakuma camp, World Food Program ( WFP) in partnership with UNHCR provides food distribution (maize, peas, flour, cooking oil, soap, salt, porridge) and some essential items like soap and toothpaste to every refugee within the camp.

However, the food supply has been continually decreasing, Wobilaya said, leaving LGBT refugees at a disadvantage since they are unable to find work and buy their own food. UNHCR has not created a system to notify LGBT members about their case progress levels, and they feel they cannot turn anywhere for support.

Wobilaya encourages the  LGBTQ community in Utah to help. “We in the LGBT community are one big family, so advocate for your brothers and sisters; that’s the only thing I ask.”

You can contact Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu, the UNHCR head of sub-office in Kakuma, at cansizog@unhcr.org and you can donate to the LGBT Kakuma refugee community through a fundraiser established by a Salt Lake City LGBT activist.

 

 

 

 

 

No safe space; how one Salt Lake City resident has welcomed LGBT refugees

Connell O’Donovan at the annual Salt Lake City Utah Pride festival. Photo taken by David Newkirk.

Story by KAYA DANAE

Apollo Kann, a gay Ugandan refugee and HIV/AIDS education activist, landed in Salt Lake City after spending two years in Nairobi, Kenya, waiting to be resettled into the U.S. The first local contact he made was Connell O’Donovan, a genealogist and well known activist for LGBT rights.

The next day Barnabas Wobilaya, Kann’s friend and fellow HIV/AIDS education activist, arrived in Salt Lake City from Nairobi. “I’m professional friends with them,” O’Donovan said with a laugh. “It started out totally informally. Apollo sent me a friend request on Facebook and for whatever reason, I accepted his request!”

After offering his help, O’Donovan arrived at the apartment that Kann, Wobilaya and two other Ugandan refugees had been placed in by the International Rescue Committee. O’Donovan immediately noticed that their apartment was sparsely furnished.

“The IRC had provided very minimal furniture, a table, two chairs, two beds, linens, basic soap, toothpaste, and toothbrushes. They showed up with a literal knapsack each, that was it,” O’Donovan said.

O’Donovan reached out to his social circle and explained the situation, saying, “They need everything, what can you give?” Within 24 hours a truck was filled with everything they could possibly need, including a La-Z-Boy chair and new TV.

“I’ve just been a contact point with my circle of friends and the LGBT Community at large, anything that they need, they contact me. And I reach out and try to find it for them,” O’Donovan said.

He brought Kann and Wobilaya to the Utah Pride Center, where they were introduced to the Executive Director Carol Gnade.

The Utah Pride Center had begun to establish a refugee subcommittee called The Heart and Home Project in November 2016, but plans were changed when Donald Trump became president.

“We had been told by IRC that there would be 25 other LGBT refugees that would be coming from Uganda in June,” Gnade said in a phone interview. “We started scrambling to get a program together for all of these people, but they never came.”

The Heart and Home Project proposed to distribute a pamphlet to resettlement agencies like the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services. These pamphlets would help teach refugees about the LGBT culture and resources in Salt Lake City. The project has been put on hold until more LGBT refugees are resettled into Utah.

The Pride Center currently offers free counseling for LGBT folk and happily welcomes refugees who identify as LGBT. Several refugee resettlement agencies also offer counseling for refugees experiencing PTSD. But LGBT refugees are often hesitant to use the services in fear of being exposed and mistreated.

Aden Batar, the immigration and refugee resettlement director for Catholic Community Services and the first Somalian refugee to step foot in Utah, stressed the importance of befriending refugees. “They (refugees) are leaving their homes, friends and families behind. It is very easy to become isolated. The connections and friendships that are made through our volunteer programs can completely change their lives.”

O’Donovan grew emotional when he began explaining that Uganda is one of the worst countries to live in for the LGBT community.

“You would not believe the circumstances these (LGBT) refugees are coming from,” he said.

In 2014, Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, in which being gay was punishable by death. It has since been updated and the penalty is now a lifetime prison sentence. It is not uncommon for the death penalty to be carried out in more rural areas.

Even if an LGBT Ugandan is placed in a refugee camp, conditions are not much better.

A United Nations Refugee Camp in Kakuma, Kenya, has been known to treat its LGBT enclave especially inhumanely. “There are about 250 (LGBT) refugees that are placed next to the shores of the river. When there is rain, they get flooded out, they’re constantly surrounded by mosquitos. Several of them have malaria, but they’re not getting medicine because they are not a priority. They are given ridiculous charges and sent to jail. The camp security will come by and beat the hell out of them,” said O’Donovan, who has been in contact with LGBT refugees staying at the camp.

Only five gay refugee men are known to be living in Salt Lake City, but two have not publicly come out in fear of being isolated from their own families and friends. Many LGBT refugees live their lives in hiding and secrecy. Even outing themselves in order to be granted asylum can be too dangerous. As openly gay men and HIV/AIDS education activists, Kann and Wobilaya have said they faced discrimination from fellow refugees here in Salt Lake City.

Catholic Community Services and International Rescue Committee have typically resettled approximately 1,200 refugees in Utah each year. Globally, 53 percent of all refugees are from Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria, all of which outlaw (some punishable by death) being an active LGBT citizen. Organizations like these are essential in helping refugees resettle into Salt Lake City, but Connell O’Donovan said that it is our responsibility as citizens to help our refugee neighbors feel welcome, especially those who may feel isolated in their own homes.

Is the LGBT equality movement the civil rights movement of the 21st century?

Story and slideshow by RENEE ESTRADA

Explore the Utah Pride Center and the Office for Equity and Diversity.

Throughout America’s history there have been movements toward equality. Americans who felt alienated or limited by the government protested, petitioned and fought for their rights.

The African-American civil rights movement followed after and spanned three decades, the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Currently, the LGBT equality movement is under way. The basis of the equality movement is to allow gay, lesbian and transgender couples the right to marry and all the rights that come with it, including, but not limited to health insurance benefits, tax benefits and estate filings.

According to David Frum of the Daily Beast, proponents of marriage equality have called it the “civil rights movement of our time.”

Not everybody is happy about this, including Frum and Jack Hunter, another conservative opinion columnist.

In Hunter’s article, “Why Gay Marriage isn’t the 60’s Civil Right’s Fight,” he argues, “There have been instances during the gay-rights movement that arguably could be compared to the black civil rights struggle, like the Stonewall riots of the 1960s or Matthew Shepard murder in 1998. … Still, with the possible exception of the mistreatment of Native Americans, there has been nothing quite like the systematic exploitation and institutional degradation experienced by earlier black Americans.”

Edward Buendía, an associate professor in the ethnic studies department at the University of Utah, disagrees with this notion.

“One of the arguments, against this movement as a civil rights movement, is that you don’t have lynching,” Buendía said in a phone interview. “Yes, there are not gay people being lynched, but we do have individuals that have lost their lives. Some people believe you have to be on the same level of scope to legitimize it and from my point of view, one life is too many to lose.”

In Frum’s article, “Let’s not call marriage equality the civil rights movement of our time,” he argues, “And while homosexuality has always had a large stigma attached to it, the number of gay people denied a job because of their sexuality just utterly pales in comparison to the number of black people denied jobs because of their skin color.”

Frum’s statement brings up another point. You can see when someone is African American. Meanwhile, you cannot see that someone is a homosexual.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has endorsed same-sex marriage. According to a statement from the organization, “The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the ‘political, education, social and economic equality’ of all people. Therefore, the NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the Constitutional rights of LGBT citizens.”

Regarding the endorsement, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said at a press conference, “Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people.”

In 2004, Utah residents voted to amend the state constitution to include a ban on same-sex marriage. In 2013, three couples challenged it. One of the couples is married in Iowa, but the marriage is not recognized in Utah.

Considering the Advocate, a national gay and lesbian news magazine, named Salt Lake City the gayest city in America in 2012, the statewide same-sex marriage ban is interesting. Granted some of the criteria were more humorous than serious, but the title still revealed Salt Lake City has a large, active, gay community.

“They [same-sex marriage bans] don’t make sense. They are restrictive and anti-people, because anytime the government says, you as a people, even though you didn’t do anything wrong, we are going to deem your existence illegal. That’s discrimination, and that’s wrong,” said Max Green, Equality Utah’s advocacy coordinator.

Green also offers another point. He believes the equality movement is taking an approach that is not seen very often. Supporters and advocates are tackling the most challenging aspect, and then moving on to more basic issues.

“This is the first time we’ve seen a sort of top down approach to an equality movement,” Green said. “In all other movements we’re seen bottom up. With the Civil rights movement, it was let’s start with something like desegregating the buses and desegregating schools, and then desegregating the military … so they went from the base up to the top. With the marriage equality movement it’s really starting at the top and going down, which is an interesting way to do things.”

Civil unions are offered as an alternative to same-sex marriage.

Thomas Allen Harris, who directed and produced a short documentary titled, “Marriage Equality,” disagrees with this alternative.

During an interview with NPR, Harris said that civil unions create a second-class label for gays and lesbian couples, making them less than heterosexual couples.

Some same-sex marriage advocates, including the three couples who are challenging Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, believe these bans are illegal, because of the decision affirmed by Loving v. Virginia.

The case Loving v. Virginia dealt with the legality of interracial marriage. According to a story in Slate, Mildred Loving and Richard Loving were sentenced to one year in prison for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that the act violated the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was clear in the decision of the court that the Justices found this to issue to be a civil rights issue.

In 2007, Mildred Loving issued a statement for her support of same-sex marriage.

“I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry … said Loving. I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life.”

Some say Loving v. Virginia has paved the way for Hollingsworth v. Perry, given their similarities.

Hollingsworth v. Perry is a case that was heard by the US Supreme Court on March 25, 2013. Plaintiffs argued Proposition 8, a voter-approved initiative to ban same-sex marriage in California, violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The decision of Hollingsworth v. Perry will not be out until June 2013. It seems until then Americans will have to see if the court deems same-sex marriage to be a civil rights issue.

Buendía sees the legal aspect is where the two movements intersect and share the most similarities. There were been many legal battles over segregation, and there are ongoing legal battles over LGBT rights, including housing and workplace rights.

While the movements bear some resemblances, it is clear there are distinct differences.

“We have to be careful of the significant difference for some people around race and color versus gender and sexual orientation,” Green said. “For some people those qualities don’t mix. We have to respect that and be aware not to rob someone of their identity.”

You don’t have to die alone from AIDS in Utah

Story and slideshow by SASCHA BLUME

Visit the Utah AIDS Foundation.

It was the day after Christmas, and it was 25 degrees outside with an abundance of snow on the ground. The building inside was bare, disorganized and in the middle of re-creating itself, the building was busy using the holiday weekend to install new paint and carpet.

The only room that was intact was the decorated memorial room.

The Utah AIDS Foundation was started in 1985 to battle the then AIDS epidemic and worldwide AIDS pandemic.

Today, the Utah AIDS Foundation, located at 1408 S. 1100 East in Salt Lake City, aims to prevent and eradicate AIDS.

In the 1980s and early 1990s there was a stigma around AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

People thought they could get infected with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) by playing basketball with an HIV/AIDS-infected person.

People thought that if they shopped in a grocery store with an HIV-infected person they would get AIDS.

In response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the U.S. government provided funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and management for large cities/states.

The horrors of living with HIV/AIDS

The victims of AIDS vomit most of the day, they have continuous diarrhea, and develop purple blotch marks on their skin.

They lose their hair, their ability to eat and the function of their blood.

The intellectual and emotional damage a human who suffers from HIV/AIDS leads to self-isolation and a disproportionally high rate of suicide.

A plan was hatched

“No one talks about AIDS,” said Mario Duran, the MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) and HIV prevention coordinator for the Utah AIDS Foundation.

According to Duran, they want to end that stigma.

In response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, The Utah AIDS Foundation created a five-point program that is designed to educate the general public and HIV-positive men about HIV/AIDS.

The Five-Point Program

(1)  Testing

At the Utah AIDS Foundation, the general public is welcome and encouraged to come in for a free HIV/AIDS test Monday through Thursday. People are also encouraged to get tested for all sexually transmitted diseases while they are at the foundation.

Brianne Glenn, the HIV/STI testing coordinator for the Utah AIDS Foundation, says everyone who tests gets an “anonymous number and they are referred to, as their number” while they receive HIV/STI testing.

“About 100 to 200 people come in a month for testing and one to two people a month test positive for HIV/AIDS,” Glenn said.

When a person has a preliminary positive test, they are immediately given a more comprehensive HIV/AIDS test. This procedure is called a confirmatory test.

The Utah AIDS Foundation’s free testing isn’t just for gay men. Straight males/females, swinger groups, and any other type of sexually at-risk person is encouraged to participate in the free testing program.

(2)  Gays and Geeks

According to Duran, the Gays and Geeks club was started because “there is so much stigma around gay masculinity and hyper sexuality.” The Gays and Geeks program is designed for HIV-positive men to come together in a safe environment for friendship and support.

The program is also designed to break down gay social stereotypes. For example, there is a common stereotype that gay men are only interested in working out, wearing high end fashion and having promiscuous sex with as many partners as possible.

The group meets once a month, usually at a movie, park or somewhere “geek orientated.” The Gays and Geeks meetings typically host five to 20 people per outing.

(3) 3-D Doctors

Duran said the Doctors, Dudes and Dinner program was an idea that was “borrowed directly from a Baha’i tradition.”

The Utah AIDS Foundation and two volunteers from the University of Utah spend a significant amount of time locating a doctor and venue that is willing to host the event. During this program a doctor will give an hour-long lecture on their specialty. The lecture is then followed by a free dinner.

The Utah AIDS Foundation set up this program as a response to the social stereotypes that gay men face. Many of these stereotypes include the idea that gay men are unhealthy and make irresponsible sexual decisions that heighten their risk for HIV/AIDS infection.

Because there is so much focus on gay men’s sexual health, the Utah AIDS Foundation felt there was a need for gay men to receive free health advice concerning other health issues that they might deal with.

According to the Utah AIDS Foundation’s website, “each 3-D event has a different intriguing health topic, (travel health, relationships, self-compassion, nutrition, skin care, etc.).”

The website also states, “3-D is a stepping stone to start the conversation on normalizing health in conversations about the gay community because of the unique way 3D is structured.”

(4) Outreach

Often on the weekend you will see Duran and a group of highly trained volunteers canvass the downtown Salt Lake bars and nightclubs handing out sex kits.

These sex kits include two condoms, one packet of silicone lubricant, and several promotional cards highlighting the work and contact information for the Utah AIDS Foundation. Workers distribute 75,000 kits annually.

We want to “talk about sex openly, we want to get a contact list and we try to get people in to test,” Duran, said.

That is the reason why they canvass.

The Utah AIDS Foundation is not interested in ending gay sexual relations, even if, having sexual relations means an HIV-positive man is involved.

(5) Case Management

Despite the dramatic decrease in HIV/AIDS infectious disease cases, people still get HIV/AIDS. When a person tests positive for HIV/AIDS, the Utah AIDS Foundation relies on a few staff members to help them rehabilitate their lives. One of these people is Zoe Lewis, a case manager for the Utah AIDS Foundation.

“This is a place that fights for people,” Lewis said. Because the Utah AIDS Foundation has been helping people battle the virus for almost 30 years, it’s much easier for people to receive great medical treatment when under the support system of the Utah AIDS Foundation. Lewis explained that many people often get very confused and lost when they try to get medical and insurance help on their own.

Lewis is one of several case managers who make sure the HIV-positive man gets complete encouragement to fight the battle against the virus. Case managers make sure every person is “teamed up with doctors and have a health provider.” They also make sure the individual is introduced to a wide and vast support system. This is why the programs Gays and Geeks and 3-D exist. The Utah AIDS Foundation wants to ensure that all HIV-positive men receive not only physical life management skills but, they also want these HIV-positive men to be emotionally happy and stable.

In Utah, AIDS is not a death sentence

“Most clients are afraid to have sex because they are afraid to pass it on. Abstinence is not necessary for an HIV/AIDS-infected person,” Lewis said. “It’s quite possible to have a good sex life.”

Part of the Utah AIDS Foundation’s objective is to adapt to modern HIV/AIDS medical research and prevention techniques.

“Our programs are always trying to accommodate all people’s needs – that’s why, you always see change,” Duran, said.

Part of this worldwide intellectual change is: gay men who are HIV/AIDS-positive can have safe sex.  The Utah AIDS Foundation has numerous suggestions for safe-sex practice for men who have sex with men. These techniques include wearing condoms, practicing oral sex instead of anal sex and many other techniques.

Despite the Utah AIDS Foundation’s best attempt at getting people to consistently practice safe sex, people in Utah still get HIV/AIDS. Regardless of the modern medical advancement of curtailing HIV/AIDS there still is no clinically proven cure for the virus.

This means people still frequently die from HIV/AIDS.

There is a reason why the memorial room stayed intact during the foundation’s Christmas remodeling. No human dies alone at the Utah AIDS Foundation.

‘I am who I am’: A profile of one man’s journey toward self-acceptance

Story and slideshow by DAYLAN JONES

Feeling from an early age that you are attracted to the same sex can be scary and confusing.

“I thought it was normal to feel this way. It wasn’t till 5th grade when I realized there were homosexuals and it wasn’t considered ‘normal’ to everyone else,” said R. Gamelson.

“Moving to the States, exploring my wants, coming out to my family and being on my own,” all those things were difficult and scary, said Gamelson, who asked that his first name not be used.

He feared being judged but said, “Even though I feel I am an exception, I am who I am. I am the same person; I will not treat you differently, so why would you treat me differently… If we quit assuming things and educate ourselves, the world will be a lot more accepting.”

Gamelson was born in the Philippines and lived there until he was 12. He said it’s a completely different culture there. “It isn’t bad to be gay over there. In some cases it is even celebrated,” he said.

When his parents decided to come to America Gamelson was excited to start a new school and make new friends. “I feel like I was an exception, I wasn’t shy, I didn’t act ‘prissy’ and I was good at sports,” he said.

Still silently questioning his sexuality in the back of his mind, he pushed it to the side and kept busy. He was involved in sports, newspaper, yearbook and theater. Gamelson made many friends quickly and felt accepted.

Although he said he enjoyed being involved in many extracurricular activities, he had one love: dance.

Gamelson started dancing at age 4 and credits his sanity today to over 15 years of dance, he said jokingly.

“It is my art, my expression and my outlet,” he said. Eventually he hopes to own his own studio and make that his life’s work.

“I only stopped for one year in junior high because of the fear of being judged or not being accepted,” he said. “After I got over that, nothing was going to stop me from achieving my dreams.” He said dancing is his escape from everyone he is afraid will judge him or treat him differently. “Art forms and outlets do not judge, only people do.”

His high school dance teacher, Karen Jones, said, “Ron is a beautiful dancer. Being a boy in high school, it is not common for a boy to stand out and stand proud as a dancer, he did both… He wasn’t concerned what others thought because he was proud of his ability and that was his to have; no one could take that away.”

Though he felt accepted socially, his self-acceptance was still a constant battle. He said the questioning became more intense and harder to push aside.

When Gamelson entered his senior year he couldn’t fight it anymore. That’s when he made the decision to accept being gay; accept it within himself. He knew what felt wrong and what felt right. Yet, he wasn’t quite ready for the world to know. His upcoming job offer was the perfect way to explore that.

“I met [him] at the gym I was going to. He heard I was a dancer and he offered me a job,” Gamelson said about his boss who introduced him to the gay community. That’s when Gamelson landed the job that started the double life no one knew about during his senior year.

“I would go to school like everyone else and go-go dance at night in Salt Lake City,” he said.

Seeing the new job as an opportunity to get to know a different side of himself and get to know this new community, Gamelson danced most Friday nights. “I would arrive at 9 that night, walk in through the back door and get myself ready. There was an immense amount of body oil and glitter,” he said.

Although he was a little overwhelmed his first night at the club, the night’s pay eased his concerns. Yet, fearing judgment and questioning of his sexuality Gamelson told no one; not his friends or family.

“About a year into it I told very few people, but I continued to dance another year before I was done,” he said.

“I came to the knowledge that you cannot have a relationship; you are there to flirt and entertain, to make money in tips. That is just too detrimental for a healthy relationship,” Gamelson said.

Meanwhile, Gamelson attended Weber State University where he completed his associate’s degree in spring 2012. “It made me realize I don’t necessarily need school to live my dream,” he said. “I believe a general knowledge is important, but I don’t need more than that to own my studio.”

Joking that the associate’s degree was easier than having the courage to tell the people who were closest to him, Gamelson said his mom “just knew… if you got in trouble and had to tell your mom, you know not to look her in the eyes because she already knew, she knows you better than anyone.”

But he was nervous to tell his dad. “My dad was a bit different; he had a hard time at first knowing his boy who was athletic and who played football was ‘playing for the other team,’ but he came around and we are pretty close again.”

Gamelson said most of his friends were supportive when he came out. “Some stuck around, a lot stuck around. They accepted [that]I am who I am.”

He enjoys giving back to his community. He volunteers at the Utah Pride Center, where he acts as an ambassador. “I saw an ad on Facebook, I called, went through some meetings, got the opportunity to speak with youth who were and weren’t struggling with their sexuality. I wanted to help; it is a support group, it is safe.”

Gamelson said he has learned a lot about himself and others during his coming out process. “There is a lot of assuming; people assuming I was one way and I wasn’t, me assuming I would be judged and not accepted but I was by many,” he said. “If we quit assuming things and educate ourselves, the world will be a lot more accepting.”

Berlin Schlegel has learned to take the good with the bad

Story and slideshow by Valeria Moncada

Get to know Berlin Schlegel and his friends.

Coming from an LDS family, Berlin Schlegel, 20, has had to face many difficult situations throughout his lifetime. Yet, in hand with these difficulties he has also had positive life lessons that he has learned from.

Schlegel was born in North Dakota. A month later he was adopted and then taken to Montana by his adoptive family.

“I grew up there until the age of 12,” Schlegel said. He then moved to Utah with his family and has lived here ever since.

He came out to his family and friends during his senior year of high school in October 2009. The process took about a month due to Schlegel’s fear of not being accepted.

“When coming out to my friends I didn’t feel as much fear as I did when coming out to my family. My friends made me feel comfortable and accepted,” he said. “My family, on the other hand, made me nervous and I felt like I could not tell them. It was a very big step for me.”

Schlegel added, “My friends took it incredibly well, I certainly could not have done it without them.”

He vividly remembers the night he came out to his mom.

“It was Halloween night when I built up the courage to tell my mother,” he said. “She was very upset and I ended up staying the night at a friend’s place.”

Schlegel’s father and sister took his coming out surprisingly well, by accepting him and his decisions. Things then gradually became easier with his family, until Christmas Eve.

“My mother and I got into another argument about my orientation,” Schlegel said. “It ended up with me being told to leave. That was definitely the worst of everything. As time passed things gradually began getting better.”

Schlegel has had to face many difficult situations in life, yet he has no regrets.

“I don’t really like to think of myself as having any regrets,” he said. “I think that there is something to be gained from every experience, regardless of how positive or negative it may seem.”

The most meaningful object to Schlegel is some old paperwork, such as his birth certificate and other hospital documents, that he has from his birth family.

“It’s all that I really know about them and I would like to find them someday,” Schlegel said. “I suppose that it would be one of the only tangible things that hold a lot of meaning for me.”

Another thing that Schlegel hopes to do one day is to see a Broadway show.

“It seems like it would be fun and I have always wanted to attend one,” he said.

Human rights are a subject that Schlegel is very interested in. His biggest interest is ongoing historical examples of discrimination that exist.

“It seems as if regardless of the culture or time period, there seems to be some form of authorization that emerges,” he added.

Schlegel’s biggest accomplishment would be when he was arrested about a year ago for an act of civil disobedience.

“Me and 26 other individuals were arrested outside of the courthouse of Tim DeChristopher’s sentencing,” he said.

DeChristopher, a climate activist, is co-founder of an environmental group called Peaceful Uprising. On Dec. 19, 2008, DeChristopher placed bids to obtain 14 parcels of land for $1.8 million in protest of an oil and gas lease auction. He was removed from the auction by federal agents, taken into custody and questioned. He was sentenced to two years of prison on July 26, 2011.

“We had gone into it with the idea of getting arrested,” Schlegel said. “It was a fun experience; it made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than I was so that was nice.” Although Schlegel did not have to spend the night in jail, he and other protestors were still arrested and had to be bailed out.

Schlegel has attended the Utah Pride Festival every year since he came out. He served as an intern for the Utah Pride Center and was largely responsible for the event planning of Queer Prom 2010. The prom, sponsored by the Utah Pride Center, is for LGBT couples between the ages of 14 and 20 who are not allowed to go to their prom. This event is held at the Salt Lake City library annually in April. In 2013, Queer Prom will be held on April 21.

Schlegel wants to finish his bachelor’s degree in musical theater at Weber State University and then he hopes to move to Chicago to pursue his career.

“I am also open to the idea of graduate school or applying to the Peace Corps later down the road. I suppose it all depends on how things play out,” he said.

Even though Schlegel has had to face difficult situations he has a positive mindset on life and tries to make the best of all of these challenges.

Schlegel added, “I’m just a person that is full of clichés so I tend to stay positive in life and I just think life is what you make of it so people should make the best of it.”

Coming out was the hardest thing that Schlegel has had to overcome in life, but it taught him a great deal.

“I can’t imagine my life any other way and in my regard I am grateful for the trials that I face,” Schlegel said. “It made me much more aware of the discrimination that exists throughout society and encouraged me to do something about it.”

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