Why ‘It’s Impossible’ To Tackle HIV Without Repealing Anti-Gay Laws

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of some 53 independent countries, most of which were previously under British rule. These countries chose to stay united for sake of political unity and as a recognition of their shared histories and shared ideals, including a shared commitment to human rights. Despite this, around 40 out of those 53 nations still have laws that actively criminalize people in same-gender relationships, and that’s not just bad for LGBT people in the country, but as the campaign group the Human Dignity Trust argues in a new report (.pdf), it’s also making it incredibly difficult to fight HIV in those countries.

Characterizing the criminalization problem as one that is “undoubtedly a specific Commonwealth problem” and citing that “over 2 billion of the 2.9 billion people living in the criminalizing world” actually live in the Commonwealth, the report argues these nations continue to support anti-gay laws that stem from British colonial rule despite the fact that there are a lot of incentives to end that practice.

The expansive report notes that criminalization of LGBT identity is very costly to Commonwealth nations, and appears to undermine a variety of different development areas. Women’s rights are undermined whether they are included under same-gender conduct bans or not, driving up their rates of poverty and sexual health problems because they are often not provided for.

In addition, criminalization appears to harm infrastructure by reducing the effectiveness and unity of the workforce and the businesses that are willing to invest in those countries. It also undermines social mobility, cutting off LGBTs and those even perceived to be LGBT from rising in economic status and thereby creating jobs when they start their own businesses. Perhaps most noticeably though, criminalization undermines health care and in particular the fight against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Notes the report:

Moreover, there is a direct link between criminalising laws and increased rates of HIV, and the Commonwealth undeniably demonstrates this link. The Commonwealth accounts for approximately 30% of the world’s population but over 60% of HIV cases worldwide. This situation has gotten progressively worse since the last CHOGM.

The Human Dignity Trust report also finds that not only is the rate of HIV higher in countries that criminalize being LGBT, but laws criminalizing same-gender relationships and by virtue of that making homosexuality and trans identity illegal also mean that people will not identify themselves as gay, bisexual or trans. This in turn makes it hard to identify people who may be at risk of contracting HIV (men who have sex with men or MSM for one) but also doubly difficult to provide them with HIV care if they do contract the virus, meaning that many people may be going untreated and so are contributing to the virus’ spread.

What types of criminalization are we talking about, though? The report touches on several ways in which new criminalization legislation is currently being adopted. Uganda’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Law, while currently not in force, is one ready example whose passing was followed by an immediate uptick in violence. The report also cites Brunei which it describes as “phasing in the Syariah Penal Code Order” set to come into force by the close of 2016 and which will mandate the stoning to death of people who consent to same-gender sexual relationships. There are many more examples, including Russia and its supposed ban on gay propaganda which, as has become abundantly clear, is merely a smokescreen for an everything-but homosexuality ban. Russia is undergoing a HIV crisis with rates rising at a rapid pace and with little to no meaningful response from the government.

Chief Executive of the Human Dignity Trust Jonathan Cooper is quoted as saying: “You will never ever get the AIDS crisis under control while gay men are criminalised. It’s literally not possible while gay men are shamed and stigmatised.”

Speaking on the report, the Honorable Michael Kirby, a former judge of the Australian High Court and now member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, said that Commonwealth nations must take responsibility for their continued criminalization of LGBT identity and the resulting consequences:

“The review by Human Dignity Trust of the state of the law in Commonwealth countries is outstanding, shocking and dire. Not only is the state of legislation terrible and virtually unmoving, three recent decisions in final national courts in India, Singapore and Malaysia have actually set the cause of reform backwards. It is pathetic to blame this on the British colonial administrators. Most Commonwealth countries have been independent for 50 years and the responsibility is theirs alone. The recent court cases have denied a role for the courts in upholding equality and insisted that reform of anti gay criminal laws is a matter for the legislature.”

With that in mind, the report recognizes that any change will have to happen incrementally, particularly because LGBT rights continues to be a polarizing topic for many nations. Indeed, gay rights reportedly factored into the reasons why Gambia’s political regime chose to leave the Commonwealth in 2013. Even with that said though, the report notes that there has been some solid progress on LGBT inclusion in the past few years, for example with Malta taking a lead in reforming its laws. We know, then, that change is possible–but that it will also be vital if we really do want to improve global development standards and finally put an end to the spread of HIV.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

51 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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James Baret
James Baret2 years ago

Thank you.

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James Baret
James Baret2 years ago

Thank you.

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Aman S.
Aman S3 years ago

STEVE, YOUR VOICES STIRS THE DEEPEST RECESSES OF THE SOUL.

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Roberto M.
Past Member 3 years ago

THANKS

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Roberto M.
Past Member 3 years ago

THANKS

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Roberto M.
Past Member 3 years ago

THANKS

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ERIKA SOMLAI
ERIKA S3 years ago

noted

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Pablo B.
.3 years ago

tyfs

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Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

Truer now than when John Paul II, the Millenium Pope, early in his pontificate, first said this: there exists a feeling of expectancy, rather like a new Advent. Time is now passing even more quickly, things are changing, and have been changing notably in the course of the last twenty-five years or so, presenting some totally new aspects, whether we like those new changes or not.

Neither condemning nor commending these changes, he suggested only that this "new configuration of the world" requires an urgent need to change the spiritual attitudes which define each individual's relationship with self, with neighbor, with even the most remote of human communities, and with nature itself ... and all of this in view of higher values such as the common good, or the full development of the whole individual in all people.

Seems millennium input doesn't think so, what say you?

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