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How Anti-LGBTQ+ Nations Fuel the HIV Epidemic

How Anti-LGBTQ+ Nations Fuel the HIV Epidemic

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Photo by Mikhail Nilov via Pexels

The United Nations urges decriminalization of same-sex relations to create public health and equality.

In a world where 67 countries still criminalize same-sex relations, with 10 of them even imposing the death penalty, the public health consequences are undeniable.

According to UNAIDS, countries that criminalize same-sex relations experience HIV prevalence rates five times higher among gay men and men who have sex with men compared to those where such relations are not criminalized. In countries with recent prosecutions, this number increases to a staggering 12 times higher.

Acknowledging the urgent need for change, Christine Stegling, Deputy Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy and Knowledge at UNAIDS, emphasized the critical importance of decriminalizing homosexuality and gender diversity. "Decriminalizing will save lives and is a crucial step towards equality, dignity, and health for all," she said.

Despite LGBTQIA+ individuals being an integral part of societies across cultures and history, they continue to face marginalization and exclusion, whether legally, culturally, or socially. The combination of criminalization, discrimination, and violence obstructs their access to life-saving services, and healthcare providers themselves often face harassment for offering assistance.

Recognizing the detrimental impact of criminal laws on the HIV response, United Nations member states made ambitious commitments to remove such laws in the 2021 Political Declaration on HIV, aiming to create environments that do not impede the HIV response for key populations.

Encouragingly, progress has been made in the past year. Several countries, including Antigua & Barbuda, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Singapore, Barbados, and the Cook Islands, have repealed outdated colonial laws that criminalized same-sex relations. Kuwait's court has also overturned a law that punished those who "imitate the opposite sex." Brazil has emerged as a leader in advancing LGBTQIA+ rights, with the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Rights announcing the country's participation in the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate All Forms of HIV-related Stigma and Discrimination.

However, this positive momentum is threatened by a well-funded, well-organized international movement seeking to enact new antigay and anti-trans legislation, perpetuating prejudice and discrimination. If successful, these laws would severely impact public health, hindering LGBTQIA+ individuals from accessing health care services and preventing health workers from delivering life-saving HIV prevention and treatment services.

On the occasion of last week's International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, UNAIDS calls on all nations to abolish punitive laws and combat prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people. By creating a more just, equitable, and compassionate world, we can also build a healthier world for everyone.

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