Track F report by Felicita HIKUAM
The session supported the claim that instead of promoting public health, laws that criminalise homosexuality violate human rights and act as a barrier to MSM accessing HIV and AIDS services and subsequently the achievement of universal access. It presented advocacy and mobilisation responses by civil society groups and detailed the outcomes and impact of these interventions.
- HIV prevalence in MSM is highest in countries that criminalise homosexuality. Those countries are also least likely to report data on the HIV prevalence amongst MSM for surveillance and UNGASS reporting, making it easier to argue that “there are no homosexuals here”.
- Arguments for anti-homosexuality legislation include ‘homosexuality is unnatural; immoral, un-African; and against African culture, religion and values. There is a need for community dialogue to continually debunk myths and fears and address the false arguments for criminalisation (to address homophobia).
- Although it is important to use human rights arguments of privacy, dignity etc. it is even more important to speak to the right to health, which is an obligation on governments to act. It also provides an opportunity to attract health and social science researchers to help build a body of evidence on the impact of criminalisation of homosexuality to HIV response.
- There was a call for activists and the AIDS community to confront internal prejudices as many ‘human rights activists’ also pass judgement on who may enjoy rights. AIDS service organisations and networks of PLHIV should also open themselves up for partnerships with LGBTI networks, in order for LGBTI to design, implement and evaluate HIV and AIDS programming for their population groups.
- In many countries the justice and law enforcement sectors had not caught up with the HIV sector and that HIV policies and guidelines are progressive in terms of recognising the vulnerabilities of MSM, however these countries had legislation that was repressive and made the implementation of these policies difficult.
- There was a reminder that law reform and repeal of criminalising laws should be a long-term effort, but that, even when decriminalisation is achieved, the stigma, prejudice and homophobia remain.
- Prosecution and sentencing of the homosexuals, overflows onto persecution of anyone seen to be supporting gay rights. Some of the main challenges facing organisations supporting gay rights in Africa, including harassment, surveillance, arrest and prosecution.
- A presenter, Jeanne Gapiya was lauded by several speakers for her commitment to gay rights and human rights in a very difficult political environment, particularly during the drafting and enactment of an anti-homosexuality law in Burundi. Having lived with HIV for 24 years, she stated that the struggle against homophobia reminded her of her own fight against HIV-related stigma and discrimination and that it launched her on her quest of social justice for all. “Unless you have given birth, you will not know what it is like to be in labour,” she stated (paraphrased)
CPC report by Ernest HOPKINS
Co-Chairs: Zoryan Kis, Maxim Anmeghichean
Yuri De Boer
The panelist provided powerful, and emotional presentations to a packed session room on the various ways homosexual behavior and individual homosexual orientation and identity are being legally criminalized and marginalized by cultural customs in countries around the world, exacerbating the social marginalization and stigma associated with HIV prevention efforts targeted to MSM and transgenders. The presentations explored the socio-cultural impact the promulgation of anti-gay legislation and cultural customs have on MSM and their ability to maintain self esteem, physical safety, mental health and consistently engage in safer sexual and drug using behaviors.
Felicita recounted the much publicized arrest, trial and conviction of a Malawi gay couple after they publicly affirmed their relationship. The subsequent 14 year sentence, imposed by a judge, who wanted to send a chilling message to the population about the negative consequences of same sex relationships, was eventually overturned by Presidential pardon—after each man had served several months in harsh and threatening prison conditions. Legal entities within Malawi have begun to characterize HIV prevention materials targeted to MSM as pornographic and HIV community outreach workers risk arrest for distribution. All of this while the Malawi constitution affirms the freedom of expression for all.
Yuri reminded the audience that HIV prevention and human rights based processes are most successful when they are implemented on dual, and parallel tracks. Community-based MSM and LGBT programs are most successful when owned by the targeted community.
John reported findings from a report to be formally released on 21/07/2010 from the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on Male Sexuality. The report documents the punitive anti-gay legal and police enforcement practices that exist across the region where 19 countries criminalize gay sex. While the anti-sodomy laws that form the basis of this discrimination are relics of the colonial period. New Sharia based laws in Muslim states have the harshest penalties, including death. The plan calls for alignment of the judicial sector and national HIV plans to promote human rights and compassionate care for people living with HIV.
Jeanne Gapiya, HIV+ for 20 years explained that as a heterosexual, African woman from Burundi she supports LGBT human rights because the struggle parallels her own15 years ago when, as a positive woman, she had to face the stigma and marginalization from her own community and family. She knows what discrimination looks and feels like and the struggles of LGBT people across Africa are the same.