Mr. Marien Koumou Atipo of the Republic of the Congo visited Utah in April 2017 to take part in the Human and Civil Rights and Tolerance program which focused on improving the lives of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people in both Haiti and Africa. As the president of the Association Solidarité de Groupe Vulnérable (Vulnerable Group Solidarity Association), the only NGO in Congo working on LGBT issues, Mr. Atipo has successfully lobbied government officials to adopt a national prevention strategy for HIV/AIDS, and has also created a program for homeless LGBT youth who have been expelled from their homes due to homophobia.
Since returning home from the United States, Mr. Atipo has used the connections made and knowledge gained in the IVLP to further improve the lives of LGBT people in Congo. Mr. Atipo informs UCCD that he is currently working in five Congo cities conducting health worker awareness sessions on removing barriers to healthcare access for the LGBT community.
He is also busy working with another organization to gather information on the different forms of violence suffered by members of the LGBT community, the perpetrators of said violence, and the damage it conflicts on Congolese society. With this information in hand, Mr. Atipo plans to organize awareness sessions in communities around Congo concerning both the results of the investigation and an additional analysis he is preparing on the legal rights of LGBT people in the country. Mr. Atipo hopes the legal analysis and public awareness sessions will help in drafting a bill protecting members of the LGBT community from hate crimes.
In the future, Mr. Atipo hopes to work with others he met during his IVLP experience. In particular, he looks forward to having exchanges regarding psychosocial support for LGBT adolescents who lack supportive parents, and would like to examine the involvement of both religious and elected officials in the fight against homophobia and transphobia. Personally, Mr. Atipo states that the work of Utah organizations like Mormons Building Bridges, Utah Pride Interfaith Coalition, and Equality Utah are each a source of inspiration for his personal development and the improvement of his services to the LGBT community.
Mr. Atipo also informs UCCD that he took part in two conferences sponsored by the U.S. embassy and the European Union. Together, these conferences brought together members of the LGBT community, journalists, government officials, religious leaders, researchers, and university professors to discuss LGBT rights, giving Mr. Atipo the opportunity to hear from community stakeholders about their ideas on advancing LGBT well-being.
Mr. Atipo would like to one day return to Utah to pursue more exchanges and to further share his experiences with more organizations. His testimony illustrates that he is a tireless advocate for the advancement of human rights and we are pleased to hear that he has benefited from his trip to the United States and Utah.