World AIDS Day Reminds Criminalization of Sexuality Impedes Eradication of HIV AIDS

On this World AIDS Day we are reminded that it has been almost 40 years since the HIV epidemic hit, taking the lives of so many of our loved ones.  While much progress has been made and AIDS is no longer an absolute death sentence, there is still so much more to be done, as we continue to wage our war against the virus in our attempt at complete eradication.

While working with African Human Rights Coalition I note that the impact of homophobia and criminalization of sexuality is an impediment, given the discrimination, persecution and fear it brings to key populations. Until people are no longer criminalized for who they are or sleep with, the ultimate eradication of the virus will never happen! Leaders of ‘homophobic countries’ must wake up to the call for decriminalization of sexuality, not only for the imperative recognition of civil rights and human rights, but also for the health outcomes that manifest as a result of it.

Criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is a violation of human rights and legitimizes stigma, discrimination and violence against LGBTI people. Criminalization stops people from accessing and using HIV prevention, testing and treatment services and increases their risk of acquiring HIV.

When UNAIDS applauded the landmark decision of the High Court of Botswana to declare unconstitutional key provisions of the Botswana Penal Code, they highlighted just how those provisions criminalizing certain private sexual acts have led to discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and the danger that poses for the goal to eradicate HIV. UNAIDS notes that globally, the risk of acquiring HIV is 28 times higher among gay men and other men who have sex with men than among the general population and 13 times higher for transgender women. Prohibitive legal and policy environments and a lack of tailored services for key populations increase their vulnerability to HIV.

Notably – LGTI people are specifically denied medical services. Also LGBTI people avoid attending clinics and seeking medical attention due to fear of being detained or arrested, or simply outed for being gay in their communities. Sometimes workshops and conferences are shut down under false notions such as so called “promotion of homosexuality.”

It is hard to believe that in 2018, Ugandan Ethics and Integrity Minister, Simon Lokodo, blocked an HIV/Aids conference, saying it was organized to promote “homosexuality and other dirty things.” This serves as one example of the harm engendered by criminalization. Read more HERE.

Officials using LGBTI shaming as political tools are risking entire populations in their countries and risking success in the quest for a ZERO HIV world.  Political operatives such as Lokodo, who run their jobs for the people based on myth, lies, and harmful religious fundamentalism, and worse yet, their own ill-informed and emotionally invoked fears, are ultimately hurting all inhabitants of their countries.  History will lay it at their feet, when we fail to reach the target of ZERO AIDS. The latter is possible, if we can just replace people like Lokodo with leaders who are not cowards.

Decriminalization must occur to ensure the full respect of the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, through repealing laws that prohibit sex between consenting adults in private, enforcing laws to protect people from violence and discrimination, addressing homophobia and transphobia and ensuring that crucial health services are made available.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in at least 68 countries and territories worldwide.

More reading: HERE.

Advocacy: African Human Rights Coalition
Speaker: Melnathan
Mediation: Private Courts
Follow me on Twitter – @MelanieNathan1
Instagram: @commissionermelnathan

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