“I think my attraction to men is abnormal”, “I’m being pressured to marry and have kids”, “I’m discriminated against because I’m gay”, “I’ve been sexually abused. Who can I confide in?”, “I’ve an infection and feel ashamed to see the doctor”, “I’ve had unprotected sex with a stranger, and I’m worried”.
Questions and fears like these, which many men who have sex with men face, will finally find answers on a new 24x7 toll-free helpline. It will provide crucial information and counselling on HIV/Aids, sexually-transmitted infections and psycho-social and legal issues. Sahaay Helpline can be accessed by dialling 1800-2000-113.
Gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi said, “While the July 2, 2009, Delhi high court verdict read down Sec377 of the IPC, effectively decriminalising homosexuality has meant more free and open talk on gender and sexuality by the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community, but this has largely remained metropolitan.”
“In smaller towns and cities, the community still remains invisible. Forced marriages with members of the opposite sex and transgender discrimination is rampant. We hope to address this,” he added.
Launched by Family Health International 360 (FHI360) as part of an operational research study to determine effectiveness in reaching out to MSM and promoting HIV/Aids safe behaviour, the helpline will be accessible in Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Maharashtra.
FHI360 country director Dr Bitra George said, “This will help reach out to more of the community who need health services, especially related to HIV/Aids, but are afraid to seek them due to social stigma.”
Project director Dr Ashok Agarwal explained, “We’ve customised the helpline to ensure caller confidentiality and identity, a prime concern among the hard-to-reach population, which we aim to reach out to. These include non-recording of call and non-identification of caller number to protect caller identity. We will not ask personal identifiers, such as name, address and phone number either.”
Callers can speak to a counsellor, hear recorded messages on interactive voice response or receive automated texts.
“This will be especially useful for MSMs and TGs who are not out and can’t access services from government-targeted intervention projects.
The study approved by the government’s department of Aids control is technically and financially supported by PATH and Canadian International Development Agency. The project is being carried out in collaboration with The Humsafar Trust and three other community-based organisations in Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Maharashtra.
There are plans to advocate that this project be implemented across the country.