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Can the Catholic Church Help End HIV?

Can the Catholic Church Help End HIV?


On National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, it's time to look at how we can really change HIV rates, and the stigma that boosts them, at home first with the help of the Pope and PreP.


Español | This year National Latino AIDS Awareness Day coincides with new conversations happening around two very important areas of HIV prevention for Latinos: PrEP and stigma. Both will have a profound impact on reducing HIV in our communities and with supporting the health and well-being of those living with HIV.

The dialogue is still new, but we really must spread the word about PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis — a daily pill to prevent HIV. PrEP is an important option for us to consider, especially for men who have sex with men – whether or not you self-identify as gay or bisexual. Strong research evidence indicates that PrEP, when used consistently, is safe and effective for reducing the risk of HIV infection.

But of greater significance is a groundbreaking conversation around stigma that may have a far greater impact on preventing HIV in the Latino community. Many of us grew up in the Catholic Church and still hold many of the beliefs, whether or not we still go to church. The Catholic upbringing is important to our families and communities – offering us structure and a connection to a faith community, even when the Church doctrine may be in conflict with our personal lives. And now, a major shift is beginning to happen.

Earlier this week, a new Vatican report sent what many called a “pastoral earthquake” through the Catholic Church by calling for the Church to be more open and accepting of gay men and lesbians, unmarried couples and those who have divorced. The report started a revolutionary dialogue that began with the statement:

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

This dramatic shift in tone could result in how Latino families embrace their loved ones who happen to be gay, lesbian or transgender. In May, the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of Latinos in the U.S. identified as Catholic; this was down from 67 percent who self-identified as Catholic in 2010. So, although many Latinos are not readily identifying today as Catholics, many of us may have been raised with the religion’s ideas about same sex relationships.

What does this mean for Latinos and HIV?

It means that the stigma around being gay may be coming to an end. It means that Latino men and women may feel safer to come out of the closet to their family, their community and to a church that will not only tolerate them, but embrace them. It means that we may be closer than ever to ending HIV by reducing the stigma surrounding what it means to HIV-positive.

The stigma of being gay or HIV-positive is real. As an HIV health educator, I’ve seen firsthand how stigma prevents Latino men from getting an HIV test or getting into care. Sometimes, it’s just being afraid of your family or friends that  may see your medication, so treatment adherence becomes an issue.

And the numbers don’t lie. Stigma is playing a role in increasing HIV infection rates among Latino men in particular. According to the CDC, 79 percent of new infections among Latino men occur among men who have sex with men. And Latinos most at risk for HIV include young, gay, and bisexual men and women who engage in HIV transmission behaviors.

Healthcare expansion is already happening within the Latino community. But having the doctors and the medications, like PReP, available cannot heal stigma. Eliminating stigma starts in our community. Now, imagine a world where the Catholic Church you grew up in not only accepted you, but appreciated that you have “gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.” This is truly a revolutionary change that can impact Latino families everywhere.

The Catholic Church can be a new “Fuerza Positiva” if it continues on this path. This year, we at least have hope that we’re moving in the right direction to get rid of stigma and ultimately move closer to an end to HIV.

Elvis Rosales is part of AIDS Project Los Angeles / Fuerza Positiva. For more information visit

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