Gboko Stewart, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monrovia – Days following a publication from journalRAGE that FHI360 outed the HIV status of a gay man in Monrovia, a project coordinator from one of its implementing partners speaking on the condition of strict anonymity for fear of reprisals, has confirmed the matter.
“I am surprised that from last year till now, they did not work on this issue,” said the anonymous project coordinator. “That boy has been talking about that issue for [a] long time now.”
Dominic Bropleh (name changed to protect his identity) in an interview with journalRAGE that has since set off a firestorm in the LGBT community in Monrovia and at FHI’s Washington headquarters and local office in Monrovia, accused the organization of deliberately outing his status of being HIV positive.
According to Bropleh, 32, the action of the global health organization has put him at odds with his family and the community–with the former blaming and linking the contraction of the virus to his sexuality.
“Last year in June, they said they wanted to use my picture on the SBCC [Social Behavioral Change Campaign] campaign,” said Bropleh. “I signed the consent form and went to the studio on Sekou Toure Avenue to take the photo. After that, they said they were going to get back to me on the message to make sure I am ok with it.”
A snap shot of the printed logo by printed by FHI. Courtesy of Dominic Bropleh
Bropleh said the organization did not show him the message––as promised—that was being placed on the flyer, nor did he give his nod of approval to it.
According to him, he raised the issues with other human rights organizations, including SAIL, LIPRIDE, LibNet+, and LEGAL, and none seemed to pay any heed to his concerns of being out, the risk of being ostracized or his life being at risk due to his health status being put on display.
“I contacted SAIL (Stop Aids in Liberia), LibNet+, and LIPRIDE and they said they were going to contact FHI and get back to me on the issue, but they never did. It seems like everybody was just ignoring me,” he said tearily.
Both LIPRIDE and LEGAL said they were aware of the issue, and the latter said the issue was brought to the attention of FHI’s Technical Advisor, Madam Cytirus Kerbay. LIPRIDE, for its part, said it took up the issue with FHI360’s management but was told a consent form had been signed.
It is not clear whether the issue was brought by Madam Kerbay to the attention of FHI360’s Liberia management which is led by Madam Nana Fosu Clement.
In a recent statement to journalRAGE, the organization declined to comment due to an ongoing internal review but offered a pathway for anonymous sources to provide information to support its investigation.
“We encourage this individual to share what they observed with us to support our internal review. They can report by email: email@example.com, by phone at +1-720-514-4400 (Individuals can call the FHI 360 hotline number with no international fees.”
In Monrovia, the issue has since caused mixed reactions in several quarters with one coming out to speak publicly, while others, like the project coordinator that spoke to journalRAGE opted for anonymity.
According to the coordinator who chose to be identified by the pronoun ‘They’, They recalled Joe Wellington Thomas, project coordinator of LEGAL, raising the issue during one of the monthly project coordinators (PC) meetings held with FHI.
journalRAGE has gathered that FHI360 holds monthly project coordination meetings with implementing partners. There, according to sources, the issues partners are having about the project are brought forth for feedback to be taken to FHI360’s management.
And it was during one of those meetings, They recalled, the concerns of Dominic Bropleh were brought to the floor. The meeting, They said, was chaired by FHI’s Technical Advisor, Madam Cytirus K. Kerbay.
“Cytirus was hurrying up to leave that meeting,” according to They. “Somebody said it should go to the security committee but Cytirus was just hurrying up with the meeting.
They said Madam Kerbay dismissed the issue with a wave of the hand that it would be looked into, and they should get on to other more pressing issues.
“I remember Joe talking about it during the PC meeting,” They said. “Cytirus said she was going to look into it. Somebody suggested that we should bring it to the safety and security committee, but I can’t remember if it was ever brought up again.”
LGBTQI+ persons continued to record instances of assaults, stigmatization, discrimination, harassment, and hate speech by community members. The 2022 US State Department report on the country continues to highlight instances of assault and abuse against the LGBT community.
In 2018, a newspaper in Liberia erroneously blamed the LGBT community for being the driving force behind the spread of HIV in the country.
In 2014, another newspaper misrepresented the facts from a health survey report, claiming that gays were topping the charts in HIV contraction.
In May 2021, members of a community watch team allegedly beat three men on suspicion they were gays in the Gobachop community of Paynesville. According to two of the survivors, the community watch members threatened the three men and assaulted them, rendering one of the men unconscious.
In June 2021, Nuchie Michael, a teenager and a student at the St. Matthew United Methodist School in New Kru Town was expelled for cross-dressing. In 2020, Cheeseman Cole, a disgraced ex-soldier from the Armed Forces of Liberia was arrested for reportedly brutalizing 27 men suspected of being gay.
In November 2019, partygoers were stoned and beaten over suspicions they were attending a gay wedding at an event hosted by Population Services International (PSI).
In September 2018, invitees at a PSI event in Sinkor were attacked and severely brutalized.
The LGBT community faces worse discrimination as they are often blamed by religious leaders for spreading deadly diseases in the country.
Identifying as gay is not illegal in Liberia. But it could spur violent attacks against a person that does so. In May 2020, fashion model Tarus Cole fled the country over remarks that ‘99% of Liberian men are gay.’
Liberian law criminalizes same-sex sexual acts. Articles 14.74, 14.79, and 50.7 [of the Penal Code of 1976] consider “voluntary sodomy” as a first-degree misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to one-year imprisonment.
US Embassy/USAID Investigates
Bropleh’s story of being outed allegedly by the organization has prompted USAID via the US Embassy to launch an investigation, according to a statement from the US Mission in Monrovia.
FHI360 implements the U.S. President’s Emergency Plans for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and, according to sources, its work plan and activities are supervised by the aid agency.
USAID is noted for having strict policies on discrimination, stigmatization, privacy, and confidentiality.
“The United States’ PEPFAR program, which has invested millions of dollars to save countless lives and provide quality HIV/AIDS services, is very concerned about any reports of stigmatization and discrimination resulting from interventions and activities it supports,” the Embassy said in a statement.
The US mission said the PEPFAR program places a premium on the “provision of HIV/AIDS services without stigma and discrimination.”
“While the U.S. Embassy cannot comment on this specific case, our Embassy and our implementing partners are investigating the issue. All U.S. government agencies, and partner organizations that implement U.S. funded projects follow stringent anti-discrimination and privacy guidelines.”
This article was funded in part through a grant from the US State Department. The funder has no say in its content.
Erratum: It was inadvertently stated Dominic Bropleh signed the consent form in September 2022, instead of June 2022. Error is regretted.
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