Walk with me: creating an enabling environment for men of diverse sexualities and transgender people in Papua New Guinea

Walk with me: creating an enabling environment for men of diverse sexualities and transgender people in Papua New Guinea

HIV Australia | Vol. 12 No. 2 | July 2014

By Finn O’Keefe and James Malar

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), sex between men is criminalised. Many people in the community hold strong views against homosexuality1 and acts of violence against sexually diverse men and transgender people are common.2

One recent study examining gender-based violence in PNG and Bangladesh indicated that police and health care providers were two key sources of violence towards sexual minorities.3

The threat of criminal sanctions, combined with repressive societal norms and religious beliefs, creates an environment where men who have sex with men and transgender people are highly stigmatised.

This results in a level of secrecy around sex which heightens HIV risk and hinders HIV prevention efforts.4

Advocating for change

Kapul Champions, the national network for men of diverse sexualities and transgender people, is working to effect change in PNG.

With funding from the Australian Government’s aid program, and technical support from the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) and Igat Hope (the national network of people living with HIV in PNG), Kapul Champions are advocating for law reform, supporting community mobilisation and promoting initiatives to increase access to health and HIV services in PNG.

Saturday 17 May, 2014 marked the 10th annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT 2014).

For the first time, through an initiative coordinated by Kapul Champions, PNG joined with other countries participating in this global day of action in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) human rights and freedom of expression.

In the weeks leading up to IDAHOT 2014, Kapul Champions launched Walk With Me – Together We Are PNG, a campaign promoting acceptance and celebration of the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity in PNG.

The campaign was designed to fight stigma and discrimination, and launched to become the country’s first ever coordinated IDAHOT activity.

‘Kapul Champions is proud to be representing Papua New Guinea in the global IDAHOT conversation promoting human rights, social inclusion and the freedom from discrimination and stigma, as well as raising awareness about repression and violence toward men of diverse sexualities and transgender people,’ said Manu Peni, President of Kapul Champions.

‘I do not discriminate’

The Walk With Me – Together We Are PNG campaign, centers around a poster featuring a Kapul Champions Board member walking hand-in-hand with fellow Papua New Guineans to illustrate that all PNG citizens deserve an equal place in PNG society and community, irrespective of their sexuality or gender.

The poster was distributed at community meeting spots, sports clubs, police stations, non-government organisations and government agencies, clinics and hospitals across PNG.

The poster was linked to social media to increase the campaign’s visibility and reach. The campaign uses Facebook to create a space for people to express support for the campaign and for diversity in PNG.

The campaign invites participation by encouraging community members, government representatives and other development partner stakeholders to share a photo of themselves on Facebook posing with the campaign poster, accompanied by a short message of support. This could be a simple statement such as ‘I do not discriminate’.

The online component of the campaign has helped to spread the central message of support and inclusion. By May 17, when IDAHOT 2014 was held, the PNG Walk With Me Facebook page had 130 members, and numerous photos and messages had been uploaded to the site.

Photos were submitted by community members and community leaders, as well as members of parliament, police officials, United Nations and development partners’ staff, National AIDS Council staff, community-based organisations and regional and international supporters.

‘We are walking with you’

Importantly, many messages of support have come from ‘every day’ people. Posts on the Facebook page include a hotel chef photographed on his ‘day off ’, a librarian from the Institute of National Affairs, police officers, taxi drivers, and tradespeople, all proudly voicing support for diversity and inclusion.

Messages of support on the Facebook page include:

‘We are walking with you’

‘We don’t hate, We Love’

‘I do not discriminate’

‘We Air Con Technicians, we do not discriminate!’

‘Great to be apart of this. one love, one heart. lets walk together.’

‘A great initiative from Kapul Champions, I support #WalkWithMePNG’.

These contributions combine to make a strong statement that community support for diversity does exist, and this support can be found among people from all walks of life in the PNG community.

Chris Connelly, AFAO International Program Manager says that this is the first time Kapul Champions has done a public campaign.

‘Conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity can be challenging in PNG’, he explains.

‘With the campaign Kapul Champions has found many willing supporters for the principles of ‘Walk With Me – Together We Are PNG’.

Nick Morea-Evera, Senior Program Officer from Kapul Champions, expressed a great sense of sense of achievement in launching the campaign: ‘2014 is the first year PNG joined the global IDAHOT activities, and it is great for PNG to be among the other 120 countries marking this important day!’

Kapul Champions invite you to show your support by ‘liking’ and commenting on the Walk With Me – Together We Are PNG Facebook page, and by following the campaign on Twitter @KapulChampions#WalkWithMePNG – to support and celebrate diversity in PNG!

Finn O’Keefe is Communications Officer at AFAO and an editor of HIV Australia.

James Malar is the Engagement and Communications Advisor at AFAO International Program in Bangkok.


1 Kindu Dbe, C. (2009). Addressing Legal Issues Preventing Comprehensive Prevention among MSM PNG case study. (Presentation slides). Retrieved from: http://apcom.org

2 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Asia Pacific Coalition on Male AIDS 2014 SPECIAL EDITION Sexual Health (APCOM). (2010). Laws affecting HIV responses among men who have sex with men and transgender people in Asia and the Pacific: an agenda for action. Draft paper, 17 May 2010. Retrieved from: www.law.hku.hk

3 Wong, C., Noriega, S, et al.; FHI 360. (2013). Exploring gender-based violence among men who have sex with men, male sex worker and transgender communities in Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea. Results and recommendations. FHI 360. Retrieved from: www.fhi360.org

4 Kindu Dbe, C. (2009). op cit.