Yaariyan, the youth LGBT group of the Humsafar Trust (HST), has collaborated with an MTV foundation to produce a set of short films focusing on HIV awareness. The Humsafar Trust is a Mumbai-based NGO working to promote and safeguard LGBTQ rights.
The films, which will be aimed at sparking conversations around HIV-positive living and prevention, will be produced in association with the Staying Alive Foundation, which is MTV’s international content-producing and grant-giving HIV prevention initiative.
The video series, which is the foundation’s first such production, has been released on YouTube, said Koninika Roy, advocacy manager at the Humsafar Trust.
Globally, more than 30% of all new HIV infections are estimated to occur among youth aged 15 to 25 years. People aged 15-29 years comprise almost 25% of the India’s population but account for 31% of the country’s AIDS burden. Reaching out to the youth about HIV prevention, substance abuse and HIV-positive living thus assumes even greater importance.
Abi Ogunmwonyi, grant manager, MTV Staying Alive Foundation said, “I think the videos very creatively illustrate the importance of safe sex and the role that sex and sexual orientation plays within relationships and in the wider community. The videos provide a safe space for people living with HIV, and provide an educative element to those who may not otherwise have access to information. Furthermore, the videos elevated the fact that living with HIV and being in healthy and happy relationships are possible. I’m very excited about the impact that they will have.”
Gaysi Family speaks with Koninika Roy to find out more. Excerpts:
Q. Tell us more about the initiative.
This is the first initiative of its kind in India where videos focus solely on the LGBTQ community, the youth and HIV.
We have been receiving a lot of feedback since the launch of the video series, with people wanting to know more and telling the actors that they could totally relate with the videos. We received a lot of questions on PeP and PrEP (post-exposure prophylaxis and pre-exposure prophylaxis) in response to our first video ‘Prevent HIV, stay safe’. These videos have also given us ideas about other issues that we can focus on where knowledge gaps exist and need to be filled.
Q. Do you think this video series will be able to change the mindset of people who are reluctant to participate in such conversations?
Yes. There are still people out there who still don’t know that if two men have anal intercourse, they can get infected with HIV. We are hoping to start these conversations by showing real-life, relatable situations faced by young LGBTQ people.
Our first video discusses HIV prevention methods. A lot of people feel that condoms are only meant to avoid pregnancies. So our focus has been on creating a behavioural change aimed towards safer sex practices along with spreading general knowledge on the latest developments in HIV prevention.
There is also a rise of substance use among members of the LGBTQ community, which has been leading to a lot of men having unsafe sex after using drugs such as MD.
Our second video is a short story about two friends and is very relatable for those who have engaged in ‘high fun’. Our approach mirrors our belief that any intervention for drug abuse must be non-judgmental. We believe that watching an open-minded, relaxed video about drugs would be much more impactful than the usual scare tactics that are employed in drug/alcohol/smoking-prevention PSAs.
We really hope to change minds with our third film by young director Shruti Kulkarni. This film aims to change perceptions surrounding HIV-positive persons. People are still uncomfortable talking about people’s HIV status and there is a lot of social stigma and disgust towards persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV/A).
Q. Why does LGBTQ-themed content normally not garner a lot of viewership?
Queer content is often targeted only for queer audiences, while perhaps content needs to be created with larger society in mind. Sometimes queer content assumes an understanding about the mainstream which needs to be done away with. LGBTQ content, specifically on YouTube, has also been facing issues with the website’s new ‘restricted viewing’ settings. This may be another cause for the decreased viewership.
Largely though, LGBTQ content is viewed as damaging, capable of ‘converting’ its audiences. This comes from a deep-seated homophobia/transphobia/biphobia which stems from a lack of understanding. But this only strengthens our belief that such content is needed.
Q. How would you define the target group for your series, and what is your strategy to reach it?
The target group for our videos are men who have sex with men (MSM), substance users and HIV-positive people, friends/family who might know someone who is HIV+, and basically everyone who can relate to the situations we have attempted to portray.
Our strategy for now is to spread it through our networks. We also plan to sustain the videos by using it as a tool for outreach. Currently we are inundated with questions about PreP and PEP, something we had not previously envisioned.
Q. What are your expectations from this initiative?
We expect to reach out to the ordinary young Indian gay man and connect with him using relatable messaging. An example of our expectation being fulfilled is an incident that occurred during counseling at The Humsafar Trust.
An HST counselor was having a session on safe sex practices with her client and was speaking about the need for lubrication during sex and the client mentioned watching a video on using water-based lubricants over Vaseline. The client was actually referring to our first video about HIV prevention! It is heartening to see that the videos have already started having the desired effect in a matter of weeks. Each film has been viewed close to 2,000 times already.