The bigotry that keeps Aids alive

The spread of HIV will go on until gay men can seek treatment without fearing for their safety

Why is Aids such a horribly tenacious disease? Statistics released by Unaids for World Aids Day share some encouraging developments – new HIV infections worldwide have decreased by 19 per cent since 1999. However, there is a disturbing lack of progress in reducing HIV infection among gay men, particularly in developing countries. Experts have long stated that HIV epidemics cannot be successfully quelled unless the underlying spread of HIV by male-to-male sex is addressed. Yet, across the globe, socially accepted homophobia and violence against sexual minorities have created barriers to HIV-prevention efforts in this population.

To shed light on a problem that concerns me deeply as a gay man, I spoke with Dr Robert Carr of the International Council of Aids Service Organisations – a leading advocate for human rights from the Caribbean. A disturbing picture emerged from our conversation of the ways politicians and religious and social leaders – all around the world – have justified the isolation, harassment, abuse, violation and even murder of sexual minorities in the name of preserving religious beliefs or family and community "values".

What follows in the wake of this inhumane treatment of stigmatised people is the inevitable rise in rates of HIV infections and deaths due to Aids, not only among vulnerable groups, but also within the general population. Fear and isolation prevent people exposed to the virus from seeking HIV testing and treatment, and the disease continues to spread unabated. "It can be very dangerous to be gay in the Caribbean," Dr Carr told me, "and to speak up is to risk bodily harm."

Although Caribbean attitudes about people living with HIV/Aids have become much more tolerant in recent years, the opposite has been the case for sexual minorities. Homosexuality triggers tremendous hostility in all sectors of Caribbean society. "There is great resistance to the idea that men who have sex with men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons are deserving of social and legal protections," Dr Carr said. "Many reject the idea that the brutalisation of sexual minorities is wrong."

What is true of the Caribbean is true of Africa and many other parts of the developing world. Such attitudes are encouraged by conservative religious leaders (backed by funding from right-wing evangelical organisations in the United States and Canada) waging a righteous "Christian war" against homosexuality to preserve what they see as traditional values and morality.

"Homosexuality has been declared a 'satanic influence', and gay people have been demonised and depicted as less than human," Dr Carr said. "There have been many documented instances of vicious attacks against gay people, which have been videotaped and posted on YouTube with comments applauding the violence as right and just."

I am proud to be a Canadian, but was disgusted and deeply saddened to discover that Canadian right-wing extremist religious groups would stoop to such sickening levels. According to Dr Carr, these people feel the Western world has fallen prey to these satanic influences (gay marriage is rightfully legal in Canada) and that they must turn their energies and their pocketbooks towards preserving the sanctity of the developing world. They are solely taking advantage of a part of our world where people are less educated to promote their own evil agenda.

This horrifying situation in the Caribbean is just one example of ingrained societal prejudices around the world resulting in inhumane behaviour that is highly counterproductive to reducing the spread of HIV infection. Dr Carr said: "Gay sex workers in some countries have been taken to detention centres and systematically raped in the name of 'curing' their homosexuality."

In Kenya and Uganda, religious groups have circulated photos, names, and addresses of gay rights activists to be placed on posters in communities and published in newspapers with messages urging that they should be killed. "In every case, deeply entrenched attitudes and prejudices, which have been taken for granted over a lifetime as being correct, have enabled people to do things they would otherwise find abhorrent," Dr Carr said.

Last week at the Elton John Aids Foundation office in London, I met a man named Alan who runs a support group for HIV positive men in Mombasa. I was floored when he showed me a flyer posted in major Kenyan towns by a Christian evangelical group called Project See. This flyer featured a photograph of David Kuria, the director of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya. It shockingly encourages people to hunt him down and kill him. To aid in this goal, they printed Mr Kuria's phone number and email in bold type.

How this barbarism can exist is beyond my comprehension, but when it is encouraged in the name of Christianity it is truly repulsive. It directly flies in the face of the Christian values of love and forgiveness on which I was raised.

Adding fuel to this witch hunt is Raila Odinga, the Prime Minister of Kenya. On Sunday at a rally in his constituency, he said: "Homosexuals should be arrested and taken to the relevant authorities." What is happening in such situations, explains Dr Carr, is that people are "regarded as disposable, less than human".

They are "left with no protection under the law and no means of seeking redress for the wrongs done to them", he said.

In recent years the Elton John Aids Foundation has funded innovative programs to establish models of how such misguided attitudes about sexual minorities and people living with HIV/Aids can be changed.

Through a series of grants to the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/Aids, the foundation has enabled community-based organisations, such as Dr Carr's Vulnerable Communities Coalition, to educate Caribbean radio stations and media groups – who have in the past fanned anti-homosexual fervour – about the connection between violence against sexual minorities and the rise in HIV infection.

As a result, over 90 Caribbean media outlets have joined together to produce documentaries, news reports, public service messages and entertainment programmes humanising gay people, promoting tolerance for sexual minorities and people living with HIV/Aids, and educating the public about the realities of the Aids epidemic.

Since the advent of this programme in 2004, there have been substantially improved relationships between the gay community and the police and even somewhat improved relationships with religious leaders.

Programmes like this now need to be promoted in other parts of the world where 79 countries continue to criminalise sexual relationships between same-sex consulting adults. Until it is, the price of unreasoning hatred will be measured in human lives.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

    £16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

    £27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

    £19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

    Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor