African scientists on anti-homosexuality laws: Criminalization harms public health

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assafReport details how criminalization and discrimination against sexual minorities fuels spread of infectious diseases among general populations as well as among men who have sex with men

Research forming the basis of a broad consensus among scientists worldwide that homosexuality is normal, natural and poses no threats to health remains widely unknown to policymakers where anti-gay laws are rife, note authors of a just released report titled Diversity in Human Sexuality. The report, released Thursday, is the authors’ attempt to remedy that.

Examining both the stated reasons for, and impacts of a growing number of anti-gay laws, the report from the Academy of Science of South Africa, was put together by a panel of physicians, academicians, and scientists. Most are South Africa-based; the panel also includes President of the International AIDS Society Dr. Chris Beyrer, and Juliet Kiguli, a Ugandan anthropologist.

The report examines and debunks claims that  homosexuality is a product of choice, recruitment, is unique to specific geographical regions, poses threats to individuals, communities or children, or can be “cured.” It examines historical attitudes, indicating the existence of and acknowledgement of same sex relationships in Africa, prior to colonialist imported “anti-sodomy” laws.

In addition it explores the many ways that anti-gay laws, policies and attitudes are harmful to public health. “Not only do such laws and the climate they create worsen the health of [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex] populations, their impact carries through to the general populations health as well,” the report says.

Many men who have sex with men also have sex with women, the report notes, because they do not see themselves as gay, are bisexual or because, in environments that pose threats to gay men, they need the cover of marriages to women. At the same time, inadequate access to health information targeting sexual minorities, one African study showed, left 55 percent of men surveyed who had sex with men believing that HIV prevention messages about vaginal sex did not apply to anal sex, and 75 percent of the men in the same study believing that anal sex poses less risk of HIV transmission than vaginal sex. The report also cites findings that some countries devote less than 0.1 percent of their health budgets and external aid money on HIV prevention targeting men who have sex with men, while 10 percent of new infections yearly are occurring among that population.

In addition, bullying, physical violence, arrests, imprisonment, stymied economic opportunities that all stem from homophobic policies and environments fuel still more public health harms, including other sexually transmitted infections, mental illnesses, and suicides, the report says.

Conversely, the report notes, “countries that reduce repression of LGBTI persons and communities and put in place programmes to reduce stigma against same-sex orientations see swift and substantial gains in both LGBTI health and the health of general populations.”

The report can be downloaded here.

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