Regional feature: Kapul Champions: a proud new voice in Papua New Guinea

Regional feature: Kapul Champions: a proud new voice in Papua New Guinea

HIV Australia | Vol. 11 No. 2 | July 2013


‘MSM [men who have sex with men] and TG [transgender people] are better positioned than anyone else to say what their HIV-related needs might be.

We need an organisation for MSM and TG, run by MSM and TG. A national voice requires a strong national organisation. The MSM and TG community has established Kapul Champions as its representative voice.’

— Don Liriope, Kapul Champions Vice-President.

It is November 30, 2012, World AIDS Day eve. It is five minutes before the program is scheduled to start, yet many of the invited guests have not turned up.

The tables are laden with food and drink. There is red ribbon and bunting everywhere.

There are many colourful activities in Port Moresby and across the country every World AIDS Day.

Communities and agencies make massive efforts to engage the broader public about HIV and to remember their friends, family and colleagues, who have died because of AIDS.

The last of the guests are seated and the program begins.

Today is an important day in the national HIV response in Papua New Guinea. It marks the official launching of Kapul Champions, the country’s first and only national organisation for men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people (TG).

Members of Kapul Champions have come from different parts of the country to attend the launching.

They are joined by members of other affected communities and supporters. The PNG Minister for Health and HIV, The Hon Michael Malabag, who has the pleasure of launching Kapul Champions is greeted by two members of the local transgender community, who present him with a copy of the newly minted Kapul Champions Constitution.

There is loud applause and cheers from the Kapul Champions members as the Minister officially acknowledges the existence of the new organisation and its important role as an advocate for the interests of the country’s diverse communities of MSM and TG.

Kapul Champions was established by local men who have sex with men and transgender community members to represent the interests of these communities across the country to better contribute to the national HIV response.

The organisation is the result of eighteen months of community consultations (between mid-2010 and the late 2011), stakeholder discussions and skills development workshops for small groups of MSM and TG.

The Leadership Development Group (LDG), the precursor to Kapul Champions, identified that the initial need was to build leadership capacity among a small group of people rather than try to establish a larger representative structure immediately. Without support from the broader community of MSM and TG across the country, any self-proclaimed representative organisation would be certain to fail.

The LDG was a project of the Poro Sapot Program (Save the Children PNG) with AFAO and Queensland Association of Healthy Communities providing technical support. In 2010, at community consultations in Port Moresby and Lae, the community members present identified issues about the place of MSM and TG in PNG society and their involvement in the country’s HIV response.

These included the continued criminalisation of sex between men; religious attitudes towards MSM and TG; a lack of research on specific practices and cultures; lack of strong existing formal MSM/TG networks; violence by police and family members; alcohol abuse among MSM and TG and coercive sex.

In addition to identifying issues, the consultations, which included over 100 MSM and TG community members, called for the formation of a national organisation, while acknowledging the existence of informal networks across the country.

These informal networks provide social support, as many men and TG remain silent about their sexuality to their families and communities because they fear rejection or worse. The LDG, together with MSM and TG community members, prioritised the issues and began to plan how to address these.

The focus of the work became taking steps towards a national organisation; advocating for law reform and; improving the HIV-related and health knowledge of MSM and TG.

Through a series of workshops on advocacy, community mobilisation and leadership skills, members of the MSM and TG community were able to articulate their needs and their very existence within PNG society through participation in the National Dialogue on HIV, Human Rights and the Law held at the nation’s Parliament House in June 2011.

The report of the Dialogue was launched at the same time as Kapul Champions. The LDG achieved much in its 18 months. It established and strengthened links between various MSM and TG communities, developed skills of a key leadership group and began to advocate on law reform and improving access to health services.

As the LDG project came to a close, its final activity in December 2011, saw the election of a Board for a new national MSM and TG organisation: Kapul Champions.

The Board members come from the eight regions of the country. The organisation now has a small secretariat, supported by Igat Hope, the national network of PLHIV organisations.

Since its inception, Kapul Champions has created policies; strengthened relationships with partners and is developing sexual health information for MSM and TG.

Given the high levels of stigma and discrimination experienced by MSM and TG in PNG, the organisation’s work occurs in the context of ongoing environmental risk.

Despite the risks, Kapul Champions members continue to advocate and to improve the participation of MSM and TG in the nations HIV response. These courageous people deserve our continued support to strengthen and flourish.

HIV Australia looks forward to receiving an update from the members of Kapul Champions about the organisation’s progress later this year.

Matthew Tyne is International Program Officer at AFAO.