Last month, in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, some very beautiful people got together to change how the country views HIV.
Y+ Beauty Pageant, a first for young men and women living with HIV in Uganda, took place at the elegant Golf Course Hotel. It was organized by my group, the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV & AIDS, under the slogan Beauty with Zero Discrimination,
In my country, to proudly get on stage, show your face and display your name when you are HIV positive is, believe me, a daunting task. I live with HIV and I can tell you it is hard.
However, you’d never know this from the contestants’ smiling faces. Youthful, healthy and gorgeous, they walked proudly in immaculately tailored suits and stylish dresses.
Their stories were inspirational.
One contestant said: “I used to get sick as a child when I didn’t take my medication, but now you can see I take it well and am very healthy now.”
Sharifah Nalugo Kyomukama recalled when classmates at university discovered her ARV pills. She decided to disclose her HIV+ status, only to be met with a rash of discrimination. She broke down in tears as she recounted her experience: “Discrimination hurts and it is never okay.”
Fifty contestants, aged 16 to 25, rehearsed with the help of experts during two days for the talent and fashion shows, and 10 finalists were selected.
In the talent portion, they sang, danced, recited poems and monologues about what being HIV positive means to them. Many emphasized the importance of taking medication regularly and engaging in safe sex.
Sex is good
The glitzy event was attended by top leaders from Uganda’s HIV community and local celebrities who came on stage to sing, speak and advocate.
We even had commercial sponsors who were not afraid to be associated to an HIV event, which was broadcast on six TV stations and five radios.
When Uganda’s former vice-president, Dr. Speciosa Wandira-Kazibwe, walked on stage, she was a ball of fire. “You are all beautiful and handsome!” she cheered.
Wild clapping ensued when she told participants there is no shame in their sexuality.
“Sex is the most pleasurable thing you can ever have,” she said. She described her own battle promoting condoms, when churches, mother’s unions and newspapers castigated her for allegedly promoting promiscuity.
However, obstacles and criticism have never deterred this fiery woman. Waving a string of colorful condoms, she happily danced with the contestants.
Professor Vinand Nantulya, chairman of the Ugandan AIDS Commission, spoke angrily against the recently passed HIV Control and Prevention Act.
“Criminalizing HIV and AIDS is wrong, unacceptable and nonsensical,” he told the crowd. “We will not let them get away with it.”
The winners, Sharifah Nalugo Kyomukama, 19, and Ronald Juan Kaganda, 20, were crowned Mr. and Miss Y+ (Youth HIV Positive). They will work as ambassadors in a new HIV prevention campaign.
Sharifah, her tears forgotten, beamed as she received the award. Later, the crowd enjoyed revelry and dancing. We had a blast!
The Y+ Beauty Pageant will be back next year – a public platform where HIV+ youth in Uganda can fight stigma and discrimination and celebrate their lives.
Jacquelyne Alesi is a wife, mother, daughter, HIV activist and Programme Director at the Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS, an organization that since 2003 works to improve the quality of life for HIV-positive youth in Uganda.
- For Girls, the Biggest Danger of Sexual Violence Lurks at Home
- An Ambitious, Stakeholder-Driven Climate Change Commitment Ahead of COP26: Eswatini’s Revised Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) Process
- Big Brother is Watching You– as Electronic Surveillance Dominates Lives
- Artist Asks Uncomfortable Questions at Paris Fair
- We Heard Public Development Banks, but Will They Have the Guts to Deliver?
- In Sub-Saharan Africa and Elsewhere, We Need to Look Harder for Tuberculosis
- Despite Climate Crisis, Politicians Will Double the Production of Energy from Fossil Fuels
- Bringing Quality Education to Syria’s Most Vulnerable, Crisis-Impacted Children – Their Education Cannot Wait
- COP26: Building Climate Resilience Will Require a Focus on Those Furthest Behind