Friday, July 27, 2012

HIV in the PHL. Religious Right, YOU'RE to Blame.

If you're an HIV virion in the Philippines, business is booming for you these days.

One of only seven countries in the world where HIV rates have risen 25% over the last decade, the Philippines has a very big problem on its hands.  But rather than listening to world medical experts and tackling the problem, the Philippine government is opting to listen to the Religious Right -- particularly the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and its mother ship, the Vatican -- and taking a gamble with the lives of its own citizens.

Unprotected sex between men accounts for 87% of all new HIV cases in the country, according to the DOH and UNDP.  Ten new infections are detected each day, and nobody really knows how many silent HIV carriers are milling around the general population.  Many Filipinos remain untested for the virus, which has an asymptomatic latent period of up to 10 years, during which no major signs or symptoms are seen or felt.

When coupled with the fact that the Philippines has the lowest rate of condom use in Asia, it's a recipe for disaster.  It's a recipe that is now starting to yield some unsavory and frightening realities.

In addition to this, according to Philip Castro, UNDP's HIV/AIDS Program Officer in the Philippines, "More than 60% of MSM [men who have sex with men] had reported having unsafe sex in their last contact."  A lack of awareness about testing and proper condom use within the gay community is the root of this, which is further hindered by the Religious Right's insistence that LGBTQ people are disordered, and that national condom education and distribution must be blocked.

Of course, MSM then bear the undeserved brunt of the blame from the loving Religious Right, because of the former's supposed "unnatural mode of sex" and "rampant promiscuity."  But the finger of blame pointed at MSM should be turned around and pointed squarely at the Religious Right instead.

That's right, Religious Right:  You're to blame for the rise in HIV in the Philippines.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), countries which implement 100% condom use contain epidemics and reverse the trend more quickly.  The Religious Right, however, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, continue to lobby for the blockage of the RH Bill, and continue to tout that condoms are ineffective, that they give a false sense of hope, and that they do nothing more than encourage promiscuity in youth.

Hey geniuses, youth are already having sex (surprise! - even if they lie to mommy and daddy and say they're not).  Come out from behind the four walls of your cathedrals and you might realize that.  The Church's assault on condoms takes the problem of promiscuity (both straight and gay) and exacerbates it.  It makes things worse.  Because of it, Filipino youths aren't just having sex, they're having sex unsafely.  They're putting themselves, their partners and their nation at risk.

Thanks, Religious Right, for all your "help."

This is the problem inherent when it comes to the Church, HIV, gay people, and condoms.  The Religious Right sees all sex outside of marriage as eeeevil and sinful.  To them, gay people aren't necessarily evil (though they are disordered), but if they ever fall in love and have sex (as human beings often do), well, then they're evil and sinful.  LGBTQs are lambasted for having sex outside of marriage, while at the same time being denied access to marriage.  There's religious logic for you.

The Roman Catholic Church, as well as other conservative Christian groups in the Philippines, insist that monogamous couples in responsible marital relationships are the key to stopping the spread of HIV.

I agree with their point.  Ultimately that's an effective way to curtail HIV (though it avoids the fact that premarital sex among teens and young adults is a reality and is only going to increase).  But to make their plan a success they have to stop hindering people who want to marry, from marrying.

When a person has no hope or prospect of ever getting married, they're generally more flippant with their sexual encounters.  What's the point of searching for that Special Someone in your life if it all means nothing in the end; if you're met with discrimination at every turn; if your government ignores your existence.  What's the point of touting yourself as marriage material if marriage will never be an option for you?

Telling people to only have sex inside marriage, and then forbidding them to marry, sounds like a plan hatched by a schizophrenic dictator.  It's like telling everyone they have to grow their own food, and then, in order to protect the environment, passing a law that bans farming.

What we've seen in other countries that have had partnership and/or marriage rights for same-sex couples for many years now, including my home country of Norway, is that once the prospect of marriage becomes a reality, peoples' outlooks change.  Stable relationships and monogamy are taken more seriously.  People begin "grooming" themselves as potential marriage material, not necessarily just to get laid on any given Saturday night.

Having the right and opportunity to find and marry your one true love, and being encouraged to do so by your government, makes an indelible impact on the psyche.  It encourages people to "clean up their act," so to speak, in their search for Prince or Princess Charming.

The Religious Right demeans same-sex relationships by demeaning the individuals in them; discouraging and even seeking to criminalize the same relationships they encourage for others.  They continually tell gay and lesbian people that their relationships are not valuable, not worthy, and not permanent.  They willfully undermine the LGBTQ individual's sense of belonging and community, and diminish humanity's common aspirations of strong families and lasting domestic relationships.

Is it any wonder that the LGBTQ community has largely turned from the spiritual institutions that have shut them out?  Many have lost faith altogether as a result of such "Christian love," or have seen their faith weakened and shattered.  Others simply stop caring, saying what I heard one gay man say a few years back:  "Well, if I'm going to hell I might as well party like a rock star and go to hell in a big way.  I guess it doesn't matter anyway; not in this life or the next."

The Religious Right is actually encouraging promiscuity among sexual minority Filipinos (not to mention incidents of bullying, hate crimes, substance abuse, and even suicide), while at the same time blocking legislation that would provide them the tools (i.e. condoms and sex education) to protect themselves, as well as potential partnership legislation that would encourage stable family units and monogamy.

If you see a massive forest fire burning out of control, what would you do?  Apparently, according to Roman Catholic logic, you spray gasoline on it.


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