Canada: South Asian, With AIDS, Can Mean Isolation
December 7, 2005
"It's a pretty repressed community," Derek Yee said of Toronto's South Asians. "They don't like to admit they have gays, let alone people with HIV." Yee, a volunteer with the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP), raises awareness of HIV among young South Asians by telling them that he likely became infected while having unprotected sex in gay bathhouses.
"Our HIV-positive client base has grown over 30 percent in the past six months," said Seema Opal, ASAAP's executive director. "Public-health nurses are telling us this is just the tip of the iceberg, that we should expect a huge inflow of South Asian HIV clients." ASAAP serves about 100 clients currently.
Opal said that while mainstream Canadian society has made great progress in erasing AIDS stigma, it remains strong among South Asians. HIV's link to gay sex makes it a difficult topic among conservative South Asians, she said.
ASAAP has an annual budget of $375,000 Canadian ($324,000 US). Its seven staffers and other volunteers make home visits, translate at doctors' offices, and help fill out assistance forms. The agency runs three support groups: one for men who have sex with men, one for women who have sex with women, and one for Tamil-speaking clients. ASAAP is the descendent of Khush, a support network formed in 1989 for gay and lesbian South Asians.
Now, most new clients are married heterosexual women, said Firdaus Ali, ASAAP's media coordinator. South Asian gay men who marry women under family and societal pressure but have anonymous sex at gay bathhouses represent a growing problem in the fight against AIDS, Ali said.
12.01.05; Prithi Yelaja