A heart-warming radio and digital project, “Unheard Voices”, launched in May, sharing real-life stories of
people across Southern Africa (Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and
Zimbabwe) who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or sex workers, and how they have become accepted
for who they are over time by people in their lives.

These never-heard-before human stories show us how for every act of intolerance, there is an act of
compassion. These are the stories of mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, brothers,
sisters, friends, co-workers, healthcare workers, religious and traditional leaders.

An example of one of the many stories from Botswana includes a lesbian woman working at a healthcare
“I told my workmates that I am a lesbian because I didn’t want them guessing or wondering about it. I was
worried that I would be judged and shunned but they started inviting me to eat lunch together and to weekend
outings. They asked me questions to further understand what the media says about homosexuality in
Botswana, the constitution and what society is saying as well. We have further discussed what we as a health
care centre can do to protect LGBTI people. Their interest was another way to make me feel welcome in their

You can read more moving real-life stories on the website: http://unheardvoices.africa/stories-of-hope

The campaign has worked with 4 regional networks that represent people of different sexual orientations,
gender identities and expression as well as sex workers to unearth these stories. This includes African Men
for Sexual Health & Rights (AMSHeR), the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), the Southern African Trans
Forum (SATF) and the African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA). The Communications & Media Advocacy
Manager from AMSHeR in South Africa, Juliet Mphande said: “The positive stories shared show that many
people are choosing to open their minds and hearts to live in harmony with people who may be different to
them. We hope it will inspire others to do the same”.

A recent study in South Africa, entitled ‘Progressive Prudes: A survey of South Africa Attitudes to
Homosexuality and Gender Non-Conformity’ confirms that more people are open-minded about different
sexual orientations and gender identities or expressions than not. More than half the population say that they
would “accept” a gay family member, that gay and lesbian people should be included “in my culture and
tradition” and that they should be given the same human rights as all other South Africans. A huge majority (8
out of every 10 people) also said that they have not, nor would they ever consider, verbally or physically
abusing someone who was gender non-conforming 1 .

The project is attracting champions across different spheres. Jennifer van den Heever, a Deacon of the
Anglican Diocese in Namibia quotes: “Healing, forgiving and reconciling!!! Join us in our campaign to make
the world an understanding and forgiving Nation. Love one another should be our commitment.”
1 http://theotherfoundation.org/progressive-prudes/

Phathaphatha Mdluli, a Senior Magistrate in Swaziland also comments, “The Unheard Voices project is a
great step forward in demonstrating the mutual respect and understanding that people are showing each other
in our communities, but we cannot leave this up to the media alone. The justice sector has an important part
to play in ensuring that stigma and discrimination against any person, including people who are gay, lesbian,
bisexual, transgender or engaged in sex work is not tolerated. We can do it, I know we can!”. And finally,
Enock Phale, Assistant Director of Clinical Services in Malawi also states, “Let's get united for a purpose and
give no space for any form of stigma and discrimination if we are to win the battle against HIV/AIDS.”

The project is part of the KP REACH programme funded by The Global Fund, managed by the non-profit
organisation Hivos, which seeks to reduce stigma and discrimination against people who are gay, bisexual,
lesbian, transgender or engage in sex work as it is a key barrier to people feeling safe accessing vital health
services. Kate Thomson, Head, Community Rights & Gender at the Global Fund said: “Unheard Voices is
important because we know that fear of being stigmatised and discriminated against is a key barrier to
accessing vital health services, including HIV prevention and treatment services, for people who are gay,
lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender or engage in sex work. We cannot end HIV as an epidemic unless we address
stigma and discrimination.”

The real-life stories shared were created into radio ads and digital content by creative agency, M&C Saatchi
World Services. SAfAIDS, a partner on the KP REACH programme, has helped raise awareness of the
Unheard Voices project, mobilising voices from across political, health, justice and community spheres to
share their own stories of overcoming their prejudices against people on the basis of sexual orientation,
gender identity or sex work. Many of these people are now advocates, speaking out in support of the project.

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Contact information
For more information, please contact our media spokesperson via email: connect@unheardvoices.africa or
phone: +27 82 296 0605.