ANDREA PENFOLD and MIGUEL ABRAHAMS
POP INN where LGBTQI + love isn’t taboo
POP INN for a treat. That’s the call from POP INN, to Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) and Transgender Women (TGW), to visit their clinics for life-saving medication, and much more.
POP INN offers free sexual health services to key populations at clinics around South Africa. It was established in 2019 by The Aurum Institute, a global health impact organisation.
Programme Manager Matshidiso Chabane said the clinics were opened to provide a tailored response to the increased risk of HIV and STIs among MSM and TGW. “It has been a long-standing challenge for members of this community to access healthcare services that neither cater for their specific needs nor provide stigma-free environments where they feel comfortable to bring their health issues,” said Chabane.
The clinics are a safe space for them to come in and collect Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and antiretroviral treatment (ART), get screened and treated for STIs and TB.
“We have staff who provide psychosocial support, counselling or advice. We offer HIV testing, free condoms, lubricant and Covid-19 screening and referrals,” he said.
All clinics have free WiFi, access to computers and comfortable spaces to relax and connect with peers.
A POP INN client said that while transgender women enjoyed the same Constitutional rights as all South Africans, on paper many still felt discriminated against.
“We would much rather go to organisations like The Aurum Institute for healthcare, where they take us seriously.”
This marginalisation extends to the workplace and even their own families. “We have to ‘come out’ every day as we encounter new people and are constantly having to explain ourselves. It is a real struggle but we take the journey so we can raise awareness.”
POP INN ambassador Vincent “Vee” KaNkosi said: “Self-acceptance is the key to protecting one’s peace in a world which still raises its eyebrows at ‘what’ we are and excludes us because of who we are.” KaNkosi is a POP INN client himself. “To walk into a clinic as a gay man and find people like me, and they see their attention drawn to me because of my positive energy and not by judgement, was so refreshing. I can say it’s life-saving because the discrimination can drive people away from seeking health care,” said KaNkosi.
His vibrant character caught the eye of POP INN staff and he was invited to be an ambassador.
“Being on PrEP means I have the power and control over my sexual health, and I want to empower others through my testimony,” he said.
• Penfold is the Public Relations and Communications Consultant for POP INN and Abrahams is the Junior Communications Officer at The Aurum Institute
• 125 Convention house, 2nd floor, Cnr of Florence Nzama St and Bram Fischer Rd, Durban
• 74 Greyling Street, Pietermaritzburg
• Winnie Mandela Clinic, Cnr Madiba Drive and Margaret Zuma St, Tembisa
• Shop U11, Nelcity, Cnr Samora Machel and Paul Kruger Street, Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit)
‘Gay love is also real love’, say Sandile Nxumalo, 35, and Qaphelani Twala, 30. The couple have been together for almost a year-and-a-half and are engaged. The POP INN clients share their love journey and how they strive to inspire and raise awareness.
What attracts you to one another?
Qaphela: Sandile is such a nice person, a true gentleman. He is humble and a real tease. Sandile: Q is soft-spoken, polite and shy, and he is cute.
Describe your relationship?
S: Our love is deep and strong. We are very protective of each other. We are complicated.
What challenges have you faced in your community?
Q: Despite being part of this community and living peacefully with most people, we are often discriminated against. People don’t even realise they are stigmatising us.
What have you done to overcome some of the challenges?
Q: We are ourselves always and are proud of who we are. S: We are who we are, we cannot change that.