Ending the HIV Epidemic Requires Ending Laws that Criminalize LGBT People
Around the globe, HIV continues to disproportionately impact gay men. At the same time, LGBT people are criminalized in over 70 countries worldwide. These unjust laws leave gay men vulnerable to violence, harassment, discrimination and HIV. Criminalization of gay sex creates structural barriers that allow the HIV epidemic to thrive. In order to end the epidemic we must Decriminalize LGBT.
Hornet launched the #DecriminalizeLGBT campaign to raise awareness about these unjust laws and to support ongoing decriminalization efforts. Criminalization of the LGBT community means our health needs cannot be effectively met. We must be as committed to abolishing these laws as we are to ending the HIV epidemic.
As a way to highlight the ongoing DecriminalizeLGBT campaign and its links to HIV we are asking people to share raise their voice and share on social media with the hashtags #DecriminalizeLGBT, #AIDS2018, and #UNAIDS.
The International AIDS Conference is an opportunity to expand the conversation and ensure that efforts to combat HIV also include the end of laws the criminalize LGBT people. UNAIDS has created the very ambitious 90-90-90 plan to end the epidemic.
The plan is that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their status, 90% of diagnosed people with receive antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of those treated will have viral suppression. But how can these goals possibly be achieved when laws that criminalize LGBT people create a culture of discrimination and prevent access to treatment and prevention?
Imagine you are a gay man living in a country where you are criminalized. Would you risk exposure and possible arrest and torture to go get an HIV test? If the government is rounding up and imprisoning gay men, like in Chechnya, would you go pick up your antiretroviral medication? If you test positive for HIV and the doctor asks you how you got it, would you admit it was from sex with a man? When gay men are criminalized they can’t actively participate in their community and accessing healthcare means risking exposure.
Just look at this map of criminalization created by ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. These laws impact millions of our community members and leave us vulnerable to HIV Many governments still treat us like criminals even if there’s no anti-LGBT law on the books. Human Rights Watch just released a report about how the anti-LGBT government in Indonesia has worsened the epidemic among gay men.
To many in our community, criminalization is nothing new. Governments criminalize people for being undocumented, for being HIV-positive or for participating in sex work. But we are not criminals. As long as we are treated like criminals the epidemic will continue and more lives will be lost.
The criminalization of LGBT people has profound impact on the HIV epidemic. In fact, something as basic as counting the number of gay men impacted by HIV is impossible while it’s illegal for men to admit to having sex with other men.
MPact, Global Action for Gay Men’s Health and Rights (formerly MSMGF) has been a key organization fighting for the rights of LGBT people and supporting access to treatment and prevention. A recent paper endorsed by MPact demonstrates how global programs can influence anti-gay laws. Change is possible if governments and institutions are willing to invest in the lives of LGBT people.
LGBT rights are human rights. It is possible to advance human rights while working to combat HIV. The two causes are intimately linked and ending the HIV epidemic will not be possible as long as LGBT are criminalized. We can continue to raise awareness and ensure that LGBT people are not left behind. Share the hashtags on social media and make your voice heard #DecriminalizeLGBT, #AIDS2018 and #UNAIDS.