Festive season greetings and closing period

OUT LGBT Well-Being, Engage Men’s Health and our related services are taking a break for the festive season from Thursday 15 December 2022 until Tuesday 3 January 2023 (except the EMH office in NMB which will open on Monday 9 January 2023).

We wish our clients, funders, partners, friends and their loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year ahead.

  • Should you have an emergency, such as needing urgent PEP, please go to your local clinic or Dischem pharmacy.
  • If you need urgent counselling while we are closed, please contact LifeLine’s 24-Hour Counselling Line on 0861 322 322.
  • To reach the Suicide Crisis Helpline contact 0800 567 567 or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 456 789.
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Festive Season Pink Donation Drive

Support LGBTIQ people in need this festive season! We are collecting donated items for homeless, unemployed, and underprivileged LGBTIQ people in Gauteng.

You can drop off non-perishable food items, clothes (old and new), toiletries, and anything else you wish to donate at our donation boxes in Johannesburg and Pretoria from 23 November to 13 December 2022, at these locations:

  • OUT LGBT Well-Being
    1310 Stanza Bopape Street, Colbyn, Pretoria
    012 430 3272
  • Engage Men’s Health Melville
    27 Boxes, 74, 4th Ave, Melville, 2092 (look for the signs)
    010 500 0934

Please be so kind as to share this and help us reach as many people as possible. Thank you.

This campaign is a partnership between OUT LGBT Well-Being and Partners For Sustainable Development Solutions, an NGO that helps sex workers and LGBTIQ migrants with social issues and challenges.

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IS IT TIME TO STEP OUTSIDE?

Coming out as LGBTQ+ is a deeply personal choice and you should never feel pressured to do it. It can be a life-changing experience that affects how you choose to show up in the world from that moment on. 

Whether you’re 16 or 40, coming out can be a challenge and many people delay or choose not to come out at all. And that’s fine too. There are many reasons why some people don’t want to take that step:

  • Cultural or religious reasons
  • Confusion or not being sure about their sexuality or gender identity
  • Afraid of rejection, losing family support and/or disappointing or shaming the family, and even being thrown out of the home
  • Afraid that people’s behaviour might change, being treated differently or losing friends
  • Fear that they will face discrimination or violence
  • Internalised homophobia: i.e., feeling shame or hatred about their sexuality

It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous or even anxious about coming out. Sharing something very deep about yourself can be daunting as you are letting someone into a part of your life that has been kept hidden for a while. And people on the receiving end of that kind of news might not be ready to hear what you have to say (although you might be surprised about how people react in comparison to what you expect).

Most importantly, come out only if it is safe to do so. If you have real concerns that you could face a violent response or be thrown out of your home, you may want to wait. Your safety should be your most important consideration.

If you have decided that coming out is something you want to do, here are some steps to help prepare you:

  1. Make sure you’re ready

Coming out is a personal decision. And it’s completely up to you if and when you decide to do it. Go with your gut. And remember that coming out isn’t an isolated once-off incident, it’s an ongoing process of being open and honest with yourself and others, which usually gets easier over time. That process is different for everyone though. So don’t feel pressured to do it before you’re ready.

  1. Tell someone that you trust

The hope is that eventually telling someone you’re LGBTQ+ will become an easy matter-of-fact statement, but that first time will likely be pretty difficult. It might take you a couple of tries before you can even get out the words. Therefore, tell someone whom you trust and who you know cares about you, like a close friend, an easy-going relative or even someone who’s already identified themselves as LGBTQ+.

  1. Plan it out beforehand

You don’t have to write out exactly what you’re going to say. But having an idea of how you’re going to address the topic isn’t a bad thing. Be straightforward. Avoid the urge to apologise excessively or make excuses. You control the tone of this conversation. People will pick up on your attitude and often try to mirror it. So don’t be down on yourself. Be honest, and if you feel up to it, try sprinkling in a little humour. It can go a long way to ease a tense situation.

  1. Be prepared for the response

Whether in person or in a letter, the person that you’re telling might already know and if they did, this revelation might be a relief for them too because they can stop pretending. But not everyone will react to your news calmly. Don’t freak out if a person’s initial reaction is strong or emotional. Think about how long you’ve known that you’re LGBTQ+ so be open to giving the person you’re telling some time to come to grips with your coming out. Let them ask questions and be prepared to answer them as honestly as possible.

  1. You’re not alone

Make connections within the LGBTQ+ community, even if it’s only online. There are so many great resources out there and so many people who can surround you with love and support. You might have some bad experiences coming out but you’ll eventually find that more and more of these interactions will go well. There’s nothing healthier, and nothing braver than living openly as yourself.

If you’re in the Johannesburg area and would like someone to talk to about coming out, the EMH Mental Health Support Team offers free counselling for gay, bi, and other men who have sex with men. In-person, telephonic, or online.

To make an appointment or for more info, DM us or WhatsApp or call 063 649 5116. Please note: We are only available on weekdays from 8:30 to 16:30. If you contact us outside these hours, we’ll reply as soon as we’re available again.

 

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U=U IT’S FOR BOTH OF YOU

U=U is an international campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of ARVs and to educate people about how effective they are at treating HIV. U=U is an abbreviation for “Undetectable = Untransmittable”.

U=U means that a person living with HIV who sticks to their HIV treatment can reach a point where they can no longer transmit the virus.

Here’s how it works: With any virus, the likelihood of transmitting it depends on the amount of virus in your body (called “viral load”). HIV drugs called antiretrovirals (ARVs) prevent the virus from reproducing (making copies of itself).

An HIV-positive person who goes on and stays on ARV treatment can suppress the HIV in their body. If the HIV is not able to reproduce, it cannot infect new cells in your body and your viral load remains low. With a low viral load, you are more likely to have a healthy immune system. And the lower your viral load, the less likely you are to transmit HIV to others.

A person living with HIV is considered to have an ‘undetectable’ viral load when ARV treatment has brought the amount of virus in their body to such low levels that blood tests cannot detect it. Only by going on and staying on ARVs can you achieve an HIV undetectable status.

Scientists have proven that someone who is HIV-positive and whose viral load is ‘undetectable’ cannot transmit the virus during sex to their partners, even without using condoms. The chances of someone who is HIV-positive and undetectable passing HIV onto someone else is 0%.

Remember that ARVs cannot cure HIV. Even when your viral load is undetectable, there are still ‘resting’ or latent HIV cells in areas of your body, called ‘reservoirs.’ That means that when you stop taking ARVs, the virus will start reproducing again.

An HIV-positive person needs to stay on ARVs for life, but they can manage the condition effectively and can live as long as someone who is HIV-negative.

To become undetectable, you must use ARVs consistently and have your viral load checked and confirmed regularly by a health care provider, such as Engage Men’s Health.

To find out more, to get onto, or to get back onto ARVs, WhatsApp call or message us on 082 607 1686. No judgement, no stigma!

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Employment skills development services now available

With a high unemployment rate, an increasing cost of living and a shaky economy still reeling from the Covid pandemic, millions of South Africans are experiencing bleak times.

Already a marginalised community, many MSM (men who have sex with men) are struggling to stay afloat, and many are being left behind. In fact, up to 50% of EMH clients are unemployed and this impacts on their physical and mental health.

Engage Men’s Health now offers innovative 2-day sessions addressing economic vulnerabilities among MSM in the city of Johannesburg.

 The programme includes:

  • Setting up an email account and learning the basics of Microsoft Word
  • How to write a CV, do a cover letter and prepare for an interview
  • Assistance in compiling essential documents for job hunting (certificates, etc)
  • Linkage to job opportunities
  • Linkage to Sector Education Training Authority (SETA) learnerships and training opportunities
  • A once-a-week drop-in centre at 27 Boxes in Melville (Wed, 11:00-15:00) with access to laptops, wi-fi etc.

If you are interested in this skills development opportunity, please contact Londeka on 072 098 5047. Services are subject to availability. For more information about the Wednesday drop-in centre, contact Riaan on 063 649 5116.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mental Health Services Now Available

Many men will feel anxious or sad from time to time, but ongoing feelings of anxiety and depression can be a sign of an underlying mental or emotional challenge that you shouldn’t ignore.

  • Do you think about a problem repeatedly and are unable to stop?
  • Are you very worried about the immediate or long-term future?
  • Do you have a feeling that you want to escape or get away?
  • Do you think about death as a solution to problems in your life?
  • Do you have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep due to worrying thoughts? Or maybe sleep too much?
  • Do you have feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness?
  • Do you think about suicide or death because you feel life isn’t worth living or that you are a burden to others?
  • Are there significant changes in your appetite?
  • Do you have difficulty concentrating or making decisions?
  • Is there a loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy?
  • Do you suffer from headaches, back pain, and aching muscles?
  • Do you have increased heart rate, trembling, sweating, and muscle tension?

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions and have had these symptoms for more than two weeks, you may have problems with depression, anxiety, or both. It’s important for you to speak to someone who can support you.

There is no shame in having these feelings. They are very common and can happen to anyone. What is important to know is that these feelings can be improved by speaking to a well-being professional.

Engage with us and let us help you. If we find that you need more extensive support, we’ll put you in touch with the right service.

We offer free telephonic, online, or in-person counseling sessions in Johannesburg. You get three sessions and it’s important to complete all of them. Sessions are available Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:00 till 15:00.

To make an appointment for free counseling with an Engage Men’s Health social worker, call or WhatsApp 063 649 5107.

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Monkeypox: Frequently Asked Questions

The news that a South African man has been diagnosed with monkeypox led to much confusion, misinformation and stigmatisation on social media. To set things straight, here is everything you need to know about monkeypox, including the symptoms and how it’s spread.

1. What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus, which is one of the more than 80 poxviruses known to science. The virus is harboured by different animal species and may spill over to people when there is sufficient exposure.

2. Where does monkeypox occur?

Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 in Denmark when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘monkeypox.’ The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Monkeypox is endemic (or naturally occurring) in countries in central and western Africa. This is attributed to the fact that it is naturally harboured by animals that are found in this part of Africa. Monkeypox infections in humans occur in these countries although at a relatively low level.

3. How common is monkeypox among people outside of central and western Africa?

There was an outbreak in the US in 2003 related to the exotic pet trade. In addition, cases of monkeypox have been reported in Israel, Singapore and the United Kingdom. On 13th May 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) was notified of two laboratory-confirmed cases and one probable case of monkeypox, from the same household, in the United Kingdom. Since then the disease has been detected in several European countries, the USA and Australia. On 22 June 2022, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) confirmed that a 30-year-old man living in Gauteng, South Africa was infected with the virus.

4. How is the monkeypox virus transmitted?

Monkeypox virus can be transmitted to a person upon contact with the virus from an animal, human, or materials contaminated with the virus. Entry of the virus is through broken skin, respiratory tract, or the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth). Persons are most likely to be exposed to monkeypox through contact with an individual that is already sick with monkeypox. Person-to-person transmission involves close contact with an infected person or materials that have been contaminated by an infected person.

5. Are gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men (MSM) more at risk of monkeypox?

While several cases in the latest outbreak of monkeypox were diagnosed among men who have sex with men (MSM), anyone, no matter their sexuality, is equally vulnerable to monkeypox if they have had close contact with someone infected with the virus. Health experts and organisations have condemned any efforts to blame, shame or stigmatise MSM concerning the monkeypox virus.

6. Can you get monkeypox from sex?

Even though it is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (i.e. it doesn’t only spread through contact with bodily fluids, but also through contact with the skin rash), monkeypox can spread during intimate physical contact between people. This contact can happen when you have sex, including:

  • Oral, anal, and vaginal sex, or touching the genitals or anus of a person with monkeypox
  • Hugging, massage, kissing or talking closely
  • Touching fabrics, shared surfaces, and objects, such as bedding, towels and sex toys, that were used by a person with monkeypox

Anyone – regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation – can catch monkeypox if they have close contact with someone infected with the virus.

7. What are the signs and symptoms of monkeypox?

The incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox is on average 7−14 days but can range from 5−21 days. Initial symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, chills and exhaustion. Within 1-3 days of onset of disease, blister-like lesions (a rash or sores, pimples or blisters) – very much the same as chickenpox – will develop on the face and the extremities, including the soles of the feet and palms of the hands. The lesions may however occur on other parts of the body. The number of lesions will vary and not all lesions will be at the same stage of development. The lesions progress through several stages before scabbing over and resolving. Most cases resolve within 2-3 weeks of onset without side effects. It’s very rare for someone to die from monkeypox, but children, pregnant women, and individuals that are immunocompromised are most at risk.

8. When is a monkeypox-infected person no longer contagious?

An infected person is contagious from the onset of the rash/lesions through the scab stage. Once all scabs have fallen off, a person is no longer contagious.

9. How is monkeypox diagnosed?

Monkeypox is diagnosed by a healthcare worker. The rash would be the most telling sign. However, many other diseases, such as chickenpox, may cause similar rashes and are more common. Samples can be tested at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases to confirm a diagnosis of monkeypox.

10. How is monkeypox treated?

Most human cases of monkeypox virus infection do not require any specific treatment and the disease resolves on its own. There are anti-viral drugs that a clinician may consider using for the treatment of more severe cases of monkeypox on a case-by-case basis.

11. How can monkeypox be prevented?

The spread of monkeypox can be stopped by tracing the people that an infected person has been in contact with.  Anyone that develops the disease should isolate to avoid spreading it.

12. What should you do if you think you have monkeypox?

It is important to seek medical attention promptly if you are suffering from a rash and you think you may have monkeypox. There are many other causes of rash, many of which can be treated and any discomfort or pain you may be experiencing may be addressed. It is also important to diagnose monkeypox promptly to aid in the efforts to contain the transmission of the virus and avoid more cases from occurring.

13. Where can I find more information?

  • Guidelines and other useful resources are available on the NICD website.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, website.
  • The World Health Organization website.

Source: National Institute for Communicable Diseases

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EMH & OUT warn against LGBTIQ+ stigma linked to monkeypox outbreak

While the international monkeypox outbreak has yet to reach South Africa, OUT LGBT Well-being and its MSM programme Engage Men’s Health are concerned that the disease is being used to stigmatise gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM).

As reported in the media, several cases of monkeypox have been identified among MSM in Europe, in some instances through sexual health clinics. This has led to sensationalistic claims on social media that the disease is being spread by MSM, which has been used to target members of this community.

Monkeypox, however, can affect anyone. “It is important to note that the risk of monkeypox is not limited to men who have sex with men. Anyone who has close contact with someone who is infectious is at risk,” states the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We have seen this before, where gay and bisexual men were shamed, stigmatised and shunned in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States,” says Dawie Nel, Director of OUT LGBT Well-being. “This cannot be allowed to happen again. The outbreak of a disease should never be accompanied by judgement and condemnation but rather with compassion and the sharing of medical facts.”

The WHO believes that one of the reasons that cases of monkeypox have been reported via sexual health clinics for MSM may be “because of positive health-seeking behaviour in this demographic”.

Caused by the monkeypox virus, monkeypox is a disease most commonly found in Central and West Africa and is often caught from infected animals. The latest outbreak, however, is taking place in several countries that do not usually have cases.

According to the WHO, symptoms of monkeypox typically include fever, intense headache, muscle aches, back pain, low energy, swollen lymph nodes and a skin rash or sores. It can be spread through rashes, lesions, bodily fluids or items that come into contact with an infected person. Monkeypox rashes can resemble sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and syphilis.

Symptoms typically last between two to four weeks and go away on their own without treatment. In some individuals, they can lead to medical complications and rarely death. People with underlying immune deficiencies may be at risk of more serious symptoms. At the time of writing, there were over 600 confirmed cases (Source: Our World in Data) around the world, with none in South Africa.

“OUT urges members of MSM and LGBTIQ+ communities and broader society to inform themselves about monkeypox and its symptoms and to be vigilant but not to panic. It further calls for rational and informed discourse on media platforms without the blaming or shaming of any community,” says Nel.

OUT will continue to monitor the situation in South Africa and will offer further advice should the need arise.

For more information and updates about monkeypox please visit these reputable sources:

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OUT urges queer dating app victims to come forward

OUT LGBT Well-being is alarmed at ongoing reports that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are falling prey to kidnappers and extortionists on dating and networking apps.

As reported by eNCA’s Checkpoint and MambaOnline.com, numerous men in Johannesburg have been lured, via apps like Grindr, to meeting a date. They are instead held hostage and threatened with death until a large ransom is paid by the victim or their friends or family. It’s believed that many incidents go unreported, and the police have seemingly failed to take decisive action.

“While our laws are progressive, South Africa remains a socially conservative country with same-sex sexuality still frowned upon. Networking apps are often the only way that some queer men feel they can meet other men,” says Lerato Phalakatshela, OUT’s Human Rights Manager.

“Stigma, shame and fear of secondary victimisation are among the reasons why victims do not come forward,” he adds. “They may fear being outed, feel embarrassed or that they won’t be taken seriously, and might even blame themselves for becoming a victim.”

Online networking apps are intended to be a safer way for gay, bi and MSM to meet, especially if they feel that they cannot be open about their sexuality. However, these services are now being used to target this vulnerable group.

“The police need to up their game and take the seemingly rampant kidnapping and extortion of gay, bi and MSM seriously. They cannot simply stand by and do nothing. Dating apps also need to be willing to work with the local authorities and provide better protection to their users,” says Phalakatshela.

OUT urges victims of these attacks to contact the organisation’s LGBTQ+ Legal Clinic for assistance. They are assured that their details will not be divulged without their permission. OUT will link the victims to confidential psychosocial support and offer advice if they wish to lay charges or take the matter further.

“We understand that some victims will not want to be open about what may have happened and we will protect their privacy. They, however, may still need support such as counselling and might want to know what their legal options are,” says Phalakatshela. “And we can assist them with this.”

To contact OUT’s free LGBTQ+ Legal clinic, victims can email report@lovenothate.org.za or call 012 430 3272 and ask for the legal clinic.

OUT has also published a series of online dating safety tips for gay, bi and MSM which can be found here: https://bit.ly/3srQs56

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STIs may often go undiagnosed among MSM

A new study among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Johannesburg reaffirms that current approaches to sexually transmitted infections (or STIs) may be failing to adequately diagnose these infections in this often neglected group.

The pilot study was conducted by the STI Reference Laboratory of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa (NICD) and OUT’s Engage Men’s Health project, which provides free sexual health services to MSM.

An STI is an infection transmitted through sexual contact, caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. There is growing concern around the world that some STIs are becoming resistant to treatment.

As there is limited data on STIs from MSM in South Africa, the study sought to determine the feasibility of implementing a large scale surveillance study and determine the burden of STIs at extra-genital (oropharynx and rectum) sites.

In addition, the study sought to assess if there are signs in South African MSM communities of Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV), caused by specific invasive serovars of Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria, which has resurged among MSM in Western Europe and the USA.

Conducted at the Engage Men’s Health clinic in Johannesburg between 15 November and 3 December 2021, 42 adult at-risk MSM agreed to participate in the study. While in South Africa STIs are typically tested for and treated when a patient presents with symptoms, none of the men reported or showed any urethral symptoms.

The results revealed that, despite having no symptoms, almost one-fifth of the men had STIs in their rectal and/or pharyngeal specimens. Approximately a third of men showed evidence of exposure to syphilis with almost a quarter having active syphilis. Notably, the presence of LGV among MSM in South Africa was confirmed.

“It’s clear that while HIV has dominated the MSM sexual health arena, other STIs cannot be ignored within this group,” says OUT Director Dawie Nel. “We believe that protocols for STI testing and treatment must be more inclusive of MSM, and that these individuals be encouraged to regularly screen and test for STIs.”

NICD senior medical scientist, Dr Bianca Da Costa Dias, added: “In the future, we hope to establish long term STI surveillance in the MSM population and to use this data to formulate STI screening and treatment guidelines for at-risk MSM in South Africa.”

The NICD and Engage Men’s Health are currently conducting a larger follow-up study of 100 MSM individuals.

Engage Men’s Health offers free STI testing/screening and/or treatment to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. Email, call or WhatsApp us on 082 607 1686.

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