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Groupe SOS, 40 years of devotion to community healthcare 

5 June 2024 • NEWS

For 40 years, Groupe SOS has stood by LGBTQI+ people and been committed to their access to rights and healthcare. A long-standing player in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Groupe SOS has been providing solutions to the needs of HIV-positive people and their families since the mid-1980s. While equal rights have made significant progress in France today, LGBTQI+ people are still victims of stereotypes, discrimination and violence on a daily basis. The latest report from SOS Homophobie (SOS Homophobia) sadly highlights this: LGBTphobic acts are on the rise. Far from giving up, Groupe SOS is acting on the ground, with those directly concerned, for better access to care and full and complete equality.  

 

The fight against HIV/AIDS: a founding commitment of Groupe SOS  

In 1984, Groupe SOS began its journey by helping people with addictions. In 1986, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was in full swing. ARCAT association and Groupe SOS responded with new solutions: prevention initiatives and accommodation for homeless people suffering from chronic illnesses linked to HIV/AIDS, and information and training initiatives for health and social workers.  

According to the typology developed by the WHO and UNAIDS, the HIV epidemic in metropolitan France is a concentrated epidemic, meaning that it affects certain population groups disproportionately, with little impact on the general population. Today, trans people and gay men remain particularly vulnerable to HIV. They are 26 times more likely to contract HIV than the rest of the adult male population.

Every year, ARCAT, a long-standing association in the fight against HIV/AIDS, supports more than 900 people in their care plans, their socio-professional integration and their access to rights. It provides unconditional support for people living with HIV and members of communities at risk of HIV infection, particularly sex workers and people in situations of prostitution, as well as Latin American transgender people living in exile in France and facing economic and administrative insecurity. 

Professionals from the communities targeted by the association’s programmes offer prevention initiatives, rapid screening and support in accessing their rights and healthcare. 

Community health: access to healthcare for all   

In France, access to healthcare is not equal for all:  

  • 35% of LBGTQI+ people who disclosed their sexual orientation to their doctor felt judged 
  • 65% of transgender people felt they have been discriminated against during their medical treatment 

Heterocentric and cisgender norms prevent their medical needs from being properly considered and sometimes forces them to give up care. Yet LGBTQI+ people face specific health issues that give cause for concern: poorer mental health, high exposure to STIs and HIV/AIDS, lack of gynaecological care for lesbian women, etc. Faced with this reality, Groupe SOS is implementing healthcare pathways tailored to each, based on the principles of community health.   

What is community health?

The community approach consists of offering specific services and support to people in need, considering their health needs in relation to their background and living conditions, and because of the discrimination they suffer. The combination of the universal approach and the community approach makes it possible to support effective access to health resources for people who are furthest from the health system.

 

Checkpoint Paris, a sexual health center dedicated to LGBTQI+ people and sex workers, is combating social inequalities in health Paris and its suburbs, where 40% of reported cases of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in France are concentrated. Since 2021, it has been offering comprehensive, free sexual health screening, treatment for STIs in the event of a positive result, personalised support for PrEP and specialised consultations, including inclusive gynecological consultations and a specific health pathway for trans people to provide access to hormone therapy in full respect of their self-determination. Because awareness-raising and access to information are essential, Checkpoint Paris also carries out outreach prevention activities in LGBTI+ clubs, schools and youth shelters.   

Supporting LGBTI+ exiles and asylum seekers

Within LGBTI+ communities, it is also essential to care for people who are at the intersection of distinct and specific forms of discrimination. This is particularly the case for LGBTI+ exiles and asylum seekers. In 2024, same-sex relationships remain illegal in more than 60 countries around the world. Many people are forced to flee their countries. Among the 84 million displaced people in the world (OHCHR figure), LGBTI+ people are among the most vulnerable and marginalised. Discrimination is often perpetuated in the host country, hindering their integration and access to health services.   

In 2021, Groupe SOS developed the Asylum LGBTI+ (Asile LGBTI+) project to promote access to sexual health for 50 LGBTI+ asylum seekers in the 10 CADAs (reception centres for asylum seekers) and HUDAs (emergency accommodation for asylum seekers) run by Groupe SOS. To combat their isolation and promote their well-being, they are also offered cultural outings.  

Groupe SOS regularly takes a stand in the public debate to improve the conditions under which people in exile are received in France. It particularly emphasizes the need to strengthen specific support for people exposed to sexual violence, trafficking and danger because of their gender or sexual orientation.  

 

Acting against discrimination and LGBTphobia

Recent years have seen major advances for the rights of LGBTQI+ people in France. Yet more than 55% of LGBTQI+ people have been assaulted at least once in their lives (Ifop 2019 survey). This violence is everywhere: family units, school, work, public space, media, medical field… Rising firgures across Europe, including in countries where their rights have improved. Let’s not forget that equality still has a long way to go throughout the world. In France, the increase in homophobic and transphobic acts is a daily reality. More than ever, it is crucial to support projects that promote greater representation and inclusion of LGBTQI+ communities.  

 

Support LGBTQI+ voices in the media

Groupe SOS and Le Refuge Foundation have announced the joint takeover of the emblematic French LGBTQI+ media “Têtu”. This union enshrines the safeguarding of an essential medium for promoting the rights and representation of LGBTQI+ people.  

At a time when people are increasingly turning in on themselves and discrimination is on the rise, Groupe SOS and Le Refuge Foundation have taken responsibility for preserving this essential brand and medium. Since its creation in 1995, Têtu has established itself as a key player in the French press and in LGBTQI+ voices. Alongside Têtu, Groupe SOS reaffirms its determination to work for a society where everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can live freely and without discrimination.  

Taking action against online hate

The media and social networks are places where hate speech flourishes. Saturated with violence, they have harmful effects on the mental health of victims, who are driven to self-censorship. Respect-EMI éducation aux médias – a Groupe SOS association – is therefore running a project to raise awareness of LGBTphobia online, designed in collaboration with the media TÊTU. The aim is to train teachers on these issues so that they, in turn, can raise awareness among students. An educational module to help decode hate speech against the LGBTQI+ community, while acquiring the tools to combat and protect oneself against it. 

 

Putting an end to LGBTphobia in sport

Anti-LGBT behaviour also persists in the sporting world, where heteronormativity prevails. The findings are clear: 77% of French people perceive the sporting environment as homophobic and transphobic and 46% have witnessed LGBTphobic behaviour in sport.   

Convinced that sport is a powerful tool for educating and promoting social diversity, Groupe SOS launched the Fondation pour le Sport Inclusif (Foundation for Inclusive Sport) in October 2023. In this Olympic year, where sport is the Great National Cause, it aims to promote the values of sport as a tool for social and professional inclusion, and to combat all forms of discrimination in sport.   

In partnership with sports clubs and associations such as Le Refuge, the foundation is rolling out the Inclusive Sport Tour in several French cities, to raise the visibility of physical activity and sport as a major tool in the fight against discrimination, particularly that affecting LGBTQIA+ communities. 

The Groupe SOS’ association Ovale Citoyen is also part of this inclusive sports approach. It provides a gateway to sporting activity, access to healthcare, education and professional integration for excluded populations, particularly LGBTI+ people. The association also offers legal advice and administrative support to help people deal with their individual problems. 

Celebrate Pride Month

June is also Pride Month. It’s an opportunity to highlight the scale of the challenges we face, but also to give visibility to LGBTQI+ communities. Pride parades will be taking place all over the world. Groupe SOS and its associations will be taking part in these collective celebrations on 29 June in Paris. 

 

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