HIV Advocates ask: Is Sexuality a Crime?

 

The International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC)’s efforts to ensure all people living with HIV access the treatment they need include focusing on key populations. ITPC is an advocacy partner in Bridging the Gaps – Health and Rights of Key Populations (hivgaps.org)– a program to achieve universal access to HIV/STI prevention, treatment care and support for sex workers, LGBT people and people who use drugs.

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Key populations often face criminalization, discrimination, stigma and other human rights violations that affect their health. Through Bridging the Gaps, ITPC has supported community-based organizations in 14 countries to advance treatment access for key populations. One of these countries is Pakistan, where HIV primarily affects key populations. Pakistan had an estimated 98,000 people living with HIV by the end of 2009, but only 5,256 PLHIV had registered in the country’s 17 ART centers by the end of 2011.

Akber is a health and human rights activist in Karachi who works with ITPC through Bridging the Gaps, and he recently shared his thoughts on LBGT issues in his country (as originally published in HIV Gaps – http://www.hivgaps.org/blog/sexuality-crime/

When I heard about the signing of the anti-gay law in Uganda, I felt like they were hanging my brothers without reason. This is governance without leadership; this is dictatorship. As if they were saying “leave it or die”. Is sexuality a crime? And what happens when homosexuals have a sexually transmitted infection and want to get medicine to lead a healthy life? We are all the same, made of flesh and blood; we live on earth, eat food, drink water, and breathe air.

In the anti-gay law of Uganda, homosexual behaviour is compared to animal sex. How can a government decide to have such a law against homosexuality? For me, sexual rights are human rights. So, in short, we should ask the government of Uganda to have physical check-ups of animals, to identify homosexuality (haha). This is insane!

In my country, Pakistan, LGBT people also face disapproval and criminalisation. Article 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code states: “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment […] and shall also be liable to fine”. This article affects the health and human rights of LGBT directly and indirectly.

Just imagine how an unmarried gay man living with HIV, or another sexually transmitted infection, feels when he wants to visit a health clinic. He might face shame, denial, self-labelling, stigma, and discrimination. This can result in lower self-esteem – leading to mental health issues, feelings of revenge, and even suicide. Who will take responsibility for his death: the government, society, you, me?

In my country, Pakistan, LGBT people also face disapproval and criminalisation

My organisation PMHS is playing a vital role in changing the law. We network in communities, and implement advocacy activities within society and among government officials. PMHS also has a project that gives the LGBT community easy access to health service delivery points, without discrimination. Our doctor and psychologist are trained to treat sexual transmitted infections and to offer voluntary counselling and testing, keeping in mind confidentiality in accordance with organisational and international criteria. These services are free.

However, although Pakistan is an Islamic state, the government accepts sexual minorities. The government is not providing services themselves, but they at least give a chance to non-profit organisations to do so. Men who have sex with men can get HIV treatment and voluntary counselling and testing through non-governmental and community-led organisations. And recently the government gave jobs to transgenders, which is important because transgender people often face discrimination in the workplace. A restaurant in Lahore, ‘Andaz’, has also given jobs to transgenders, which was an eye-opening experience for me because it shows everyone has a role to play. This is what we call empowering the community

 

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