Anti-homophobia campaign takes to the road in South America

As the world marks International Day against Homophobia on 17 May, Chilean truckers carry a message of respect for colleagues, irrespective of sexual orientation.

News | 16 May 2012
A groundbreaking initiative against homophobia is travelling the length and breadth of Chile... on the logbooks of 25,000 truckers.

I work with my colleagues; I am not concerned with their sexual orientation… If they are good colleagues, what does it matter?"
This and other messages aimed at battling homophobia, as well as the spread of HIV have been printed on the inside cover of the hourly attendance records all drivers must have in their vehicles.

“Overcoming homophobia is a challenge in itself... but I believe we are doing our part”, says Juan Araya Jofré, president of the National Confederation of Truck Owners in Chile (CNDC) which is behind the initiative.

“We all know that the best strategy to prevent HIV is to inform people”, he says.

Such campaigns are a crucial component of HIV prevention, says Eric Stener Carlson, HIV and AIDS specialist for the ILO in South America.

Combating homophobia is key to HIV prevention

“Combating homophobia and transphobia is a priority because many workers avoid seeking basic HIV prevention and care services due to their fear of being ridiculed or assaulted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” he says.

The gay and transgender community in South America is disproportionately affected by HIV. In Chile, 20 per cent of men who have sex with men (MSM) are estimated to live with HIV, compared to 0.4 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 49 years, according to UNAIDS. Similarly, in Paraguay, 10 per cent of the MSM population is estimated to be living with HIV, compared to 0.3 per cent of the general population.

The ILO is working with Chile’s Ministry of Labour and Social Provision to implement, together with trucking unions and enterprises, recommendations for the prevention of HIV and the elimination of homophobia, transphobia and HIV-related discrimination with the support of the Norwegian government.

The ILO also helped facilitate a similar consultation process in Paraguay with funding from OFID (OPEC Fund for International Development), where 1,000 copies of a manual on ways to prevent HIV and eradicate homophobia have been distributed at training sessions run by ILO partners.

Juan Godoy, one of the trainers, says he is seeing positive changes among his colleagues.

“They have a more open and respectful attitude”, says Godoy, president of Liberty and Union of Drivers in Action (LUCHA) which represents 4,500 drivers in Paraguay.

“If we continue to insist on this message of non-discrimination, it will ensure that respect and tolerance will take root in our fellow truck drivers’ treatment of gay or trans workers”.

Stener Carlson too is hopeful that homophobia and transphobia can be effectively reduced, in spite of recent attacks against gay and trans workers in South America. “It’s going to be a long path and it’s not going to be an easy one, but it’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it”.