Community based groups note risks, seize opportunities social media offer sexual minorities

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Representatives of Thailand, the Netherlands, Cameroon and Morocco spoke of the largely untapped potential of social media and digital technology

Driven underground by laws and discrimination, their needs for information ignored in much of the global AIDS response, social media provided a refuge but also risks for members of sexual minorities in countries around the world, panelists agreed Thursday.

But, representatives of groups from Thailand, the Netherlands, Morocco and Cameroon said, social media and communications technology also offered unprecedented ways to provide information, referrals, support and community to men who have sex with men, gay, and transgender people.

They told of their projects at a session titled “The Future of HIV Prevention, Health and Human Rights in Gay, other MSM and Transgender Communities: Toward More Effective Approaches  with ICTs in a Web 2.0 World.

In Thailand, Nada Chaiyajit of Thai Lady Boyz (TLBz) told the audience, transgender women were in urgent need of information.

“You might be surprised,” she said. “We are on every corner, but that doesn’t mean we are accepted.”

Surveys had shown that just 50 percent of transgender women used condoms with their partners, she added.

With support from the Swedish Federation for Lesbian and Gay Rights, TLBz offered beauty tips, pre- and post-operative sexual advice — and “weaves in” information about HIV prevention, and information about other sexual transmitted infections, using a web site, MSN messenger, and facebook. “We offer ‘sexpertise,'” she said.

In Morocco, where homosexual sex is illegal and where overall HIV prevalence is relatively low, but is concentrated among men who have sex with men, a group called ALCS used popular gay dating sites, including Gay Romeo to make information available to men who wanted it.

And in the Netherlands, a group called “Poz and Proud” started a digital forum, a blog and a facebook group to spread messages of prevention, support and empowerment.

All were low cost, sustainable, evidence based, grass roots efforts based on community knowledge, moderator Christopher Walsh said. And all had tackled a problem that was otherwise ignored.

“HIV prevention is still a solution, four decades in,” he said.

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