Thursday, February 23, 2012

Criminalization of Homosexuality Risks World Health

Countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality are directly responsible for the worsening of the spread of HIV, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO's report, which can be accessed here, points to the fact that it is actually still illegal to be a gay man, and for two men to have sex, in 75 countries.  In Asia, the countries of Singapore, Bhutan, Myanmar, Malaysia, Palau, and certain states in Indonesia are included in that list.  Singapore's law against male-male sex (Section 377A of the Penal Code) is still in place though is rarely enforced.

According to WHO, such legal restrictions and discrimination force gay and transgender people to risk criminal sanctions if they discuss their sex lives with health service providers.  Sexual activity is very important for a doctor to know about it -- whether you're straight, gay, bi, or trans -- but in places where same-sex activity is illegal or where it is strongly frowned upon for "moral" reasons, many people remain quiet.  These archaic laws also give police the authority to harass organizations that provide vitally important health services and education to the LGBT community.

Even if patients are willing to be open with their doctor about their sexuality, they often encounter a lack of knowledge among health professionals about HIV/AIDS, safe sex practices, and condom use.  The widening HIV epidemic among gay men in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean is largely caused by unprotected sex.  The tragedy is that this is a problem easily remedied through education of safe sex and condom use, condom availability, and encouragement of and legal protections for monogamous couples.

These deplorable laws must change, and a very good sign of international pressure to work toward that end came in 2011, when a Resolution by the UN Human Rights Council affirmed the rights of LGBT people around the world.

It is high time the world starts listening to health science experts on matters of health, rather than listening to Muslim clerics or the Vatican.  This is common sense.  We wouldn't consult a seamstress if we want to build a skyscraper, and neither should we consult a cleric if we need expertise on public health.  Talk about a monumental "duh" moment.


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