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March 16, 2010

UNAIDS: Criminalizing Homosexuality Boosts Global HIV Rates

Laws criminalizing homosexuality, drug use and sex work have increased new HIV infections globally, according to UNAIDS head Michel Sidibe as reported by The Associated Press. At a luncheon hosted by the United Nations Foundation, Sidibe told journalists that misdirected legislation hinders high-risk groups from accessing HIV prevention and care because they fear persecution.

“You have also a growing conservatism, which is making me very scared,” Sidibe said. “We must insist that the rights of the minorities are upheld. If we don’t do that…I think the epidemic will grow again. We cannot accept the tyranny of the majority.”

According to the article, the U.N. chief said “it is unacceptable” that 85 countries still have laws criminalizing homosexuality among adults, including seven that impose the death penalty for homosexual practices. He called a proposed Ugandan law that would impose the death penalty on LGBT people “very unfortunate” and said it should never be approved.

Sidibe explained that in countries from China to Kenya and Malawi—where homosexuality is criminalized—about 33 percent of new HIV infections were among men who have sex with men (MSM). In contrast, MSM comprise about 3 to 6 percent of HIV infections in Caribbean countries that don’t have repressive laws.  

Sidibe said it was “shocking” that in the United States—which doesn’t have restrictive laws against homosexuality and where the gay community was the first to address HIV/AIDS—more than 50 percent of new HIV infections last year were among MSM.

“It seems like we have come full circle” in the United States, he said. “After almost no cases a few years ago we are seeing again this new peak among people who are not having access to all the information, the protection that is needed.”

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