Doctors, Tutu, Clinton appeal for LGBT rights in AIDS fight

Calls for an end to anti-homosexuality laws are growing more common, based on the growing understanding that such laws encourage the spread AIDS by denying health services to men who have sex with men (MSM).

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Photo via WikiCommons Media)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Photo via WikiCommons Media)

New drugs such as Truvada have generated optimism that many countries’ AIDS epidemics can be brought under control, but medical success will be impossible without legal and social changes, a team of doctors say in the medical journal The Lancet.

“None of these goals can be achieved … if MSM continue to be denied health-care services,” they write.

On the occasion of this week’s International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa called for repeal of laws that criminalize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people both as a method for combating AIDS and as a matter of justice.

“It is up to all to work to change those laws,” he wrote.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a similar position, though less directly, in her speech to the AIDS conference.

“I am here to set a goal for a generation that is free of AIDS,” she said, and then spoke at length about anti-AIDS programs focused on heterosexual women and men. She announced an additional $80 million program for HIV-positive mothers and $40 million for a voluntary male circumcision in South Africa.

She then added, “If we’re going to create an AIDS-free generation, we also must address the needs of the people who are at the highest risk of contracting HIV.”

Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

She cited the high HIV rate among sex workers, injection drug users and men who have sex with men:

“In low- and middle-income countries, studies suggest that HIV prevalence among men who have sex with male partners could be up to 19 times higher than among the general population,” she said.

That’s in line with the observations of the doctors in The Lancet who said that, among MSM, “new, or newly identified, outbreaks are being detected wherever surveillance is undertaken. Achieving an AIDS-free generation will not happen unless new and effective approaches are developed and implemented at scale for MSM.”

Clinton took note of the difficulties caused by these groups’ legal status:

“[Some countries] take actions that, rather than discouraging risky behavior, actually drive more people into the shadows, where the epidemic is that much harder to fight.”

She has spoken more forcefully on the topic in the past, such as last December, when she said, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights” and added, “It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished.”

On a practical level, Clinton announced some additional funding for high-risk groups:

  • $15 million for “implementation research to identify the specific interventions that are most effective for each key population.”
  • $20 million for a “challenge fund that will support country-led plans to expand services for key populations”
  • $2 through the Robert Carr Civil Society Network Fund “to bolster the efforts of civil society groups to reach key populations.”

Tutu took a more spiritual approach, writing;

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are a part of every human community. LGBT people already have God’s full love and acceptance -— they are his children too. But they need our acceptance, our love. And to the extent that legal discrimination, those old laws and statutes that make them inferior still exist, it is up to all to work to change those laws.

I have no doubt that in the future, the laws that criminalize so many forms of human love and commitment will look the way the apartheid laws do to us now -— so obviously wrong.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.


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