My name is Bradley Fortuin, I’m 26 years old and I live in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. In my country, one in four people are living with HIV, so all people are directly or indirectly affected by HIV and AIDS. I myself, for example, had to deal with the loss of my mother at a very young age. She died of HIV when I was only nine years old, and then the family fell apart. And now, as a grown-up man, I have to face the stigma associated with being gay. In Botswana same sex activity is a crime, and homosexuals are confronted with a lot of violence. Moreover, LGBT people are often excluded from health care services, which increases the risk of contracting HIV.
But I dream of a world where everyone is accepted for who they are. I work as a volunteer for Bridging the Gaps partner LeGaBiBo (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana). And recently I attended the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in Zimbabwe. ICASA is a great platform for key populations in Africa, to discuss the fundamental issues that affect them and to find effective ways to move forward. During ICASA, in the Bridging the Gaps photo exhibition, I had the opportunity to tell my story as a young gay man in Botswana and how I’m affected by HIV and AIDS. The exhibition features pictures made by members of key populations accompanied by their stories. I believe that every story has the power to change the life of at least one person in the world and that stories encourage people. At the exhibition I met many people who told me that that they resonated with my story and that it helped them. This inspires me to continue doing what I do.
In the photo exhibition, I had the opportunity to tell my story as a young gay man in Botswana and how I’m affected by HIV and AIDS
Bridging the Gaps gave me the chance to tell my story to a broader audience – this was an immense proud moment. Having key populations themselves tell about their lives is a huge chance to change people’s mind-set towards young LGBT people and HIV. At ICASA, people came to me and shared their stories, which was really life changing for me and for them. To a certain extent, we all have the same experiences; we learn and find ways to survive and move forward, regardless of the obstacles. Young LGBT people and young people living with HIV still face a lot of stigma and discrimination, and many of them don’t have anybody to talk with and to support them. Meeting me and reading my story was really an encouragement for these young people, and for me as well. I will never forget the young woman from Zimbabwe who walked up to me, hugged me and said: ‘Thank you, you’ve really given me the strength to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.’ This was a pivotal moment for me, and we both couldn’t express our gratitude towards each other.