AIDS 2008: Battling AIDS By Battling Homophobia

Red Ribbon on SidewalkAs the XVII International AIDS Conference wraps up in Mexico City, one of the many issues participants have been discussing is the international failure to adequately address HIV/AIDS among men who have sex with other men, often referred to as MSM.

SciDev.Net’s blog points out that:

“In the 1980s, when the HIV was identified for the first time, the prevalence of the HIV/AIDS among homosexuals was so high that the disease was called ‘the gay plague.’ The scenario changed, and it showed that the virus and the disease can be – how to say – ‘democratic’ (!), affecting straight men, women and children.

However, scientific data have been showing that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among ‘men who have sex with men’ (MSM) is becoming higher and higher.”

The issue of protecting MSM was brought up by various officials at the opening session of the conference, including leaders from the United Nations and the World Health Organization, and the presidents of Mexico, Botswana, and St. Kitts and Nevis.

It was further reinforced by a report released at the conference by amfAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research). The study shows that globally MSM are 19 times more likely to be infected with HIV than the general population. In Latin America, where the conference is taking place, MSM are 33 times more likely to be infected than the general population, but programs targeting MSM receive less than 1 percent of total HIV/AIDS spending.

The report also found that data on MSM is scarce. Of the 128 countries examined, 44 percent failed to provide any data at all on gay and bisexual men.

Walt Senterfitt, blogging on, speculates about why there's a lack of information.

“A major reason for our lack of knowledge is the same reason why gay men and other MSM are systematically ignored or downplayed in HIV prevention messages and funding and why gay men are subject to arrest, imprisonment, beatings and death in many parts of the globe: Homophobia, stigma, discrimination.

Peter Piot [UNAIDS Executive Director] highlighted the public information campaigns of the Mexican government health department against homophobia as noteworthy exceptions to most government's either ignoring homophobia or actively promoting it.”

Gus Cairns, also blogging on, shares his hopes for how this conference could impact MSM.

“I hoped this conference would be a turning point in the recognition of gay men/MSM in the countries where we officially don’t exist, or are jailed or beaten up or are just plain to scared to be open.

And I very much hope it will, but it’s going to be a struggle. I was reading Elizabeth Pisani’s book The Wisdom of Whores on the way over and she has a lot of things so say about how the world adopted an ‘AIDS affects everyone’ ideology because it was too scary and inconvenient to get politicians to do nice things for the people really affected, namely their ‘vulnerable communities’ or (and I’ll go along with Elizabeth in using the terms that don’t appear in policy pronouncements) their fags, junkies and whores.”

Hope was one of the themes at the first International March against Stigma, Discrimination and Homophobia, which occurred the day before the conference's kickoff to protest discrimination against those with HIV and to highlight homophobia.

Si Soy Gay describes the march:

“Thousands of people marched against Homophobia, beginning at the Angel of Independence on Paseo de la Reforma Avenue in Mexico City’s gay business and continued down Reforma and ended at the Zocala, in front of the México’s Presidential Palace. This was truly an International march because there were people from all over the world: USA, Central and South America, England, Europe, Asia and Africa.”

Charles Long posts this video of the march.

Gus Cairns says that even though great challenges lie ahead in combating HIV/AIDS among MSM globally, the march gave him hope.

“Just to see the banners on the Mexico march — ranging from the ones saying ‘homophobia is a public health problem’ to the handwritten one carried by a middle aged lady that said, in Spanish and English, ‘I’m proud of my gay son,’ — gives me hope that the thing some of us have been most scared of and yet hoped for most: a re-gaying of the struggle against HIV, but this time drawing in the energies of gay men/MSM from around the world, may be starting to happen.”

Walt Senterfitt also posts reflections on the march.

“It reminds me that we have the power to fight homophobia around the world, if we mobilize, and link with all the other struggles for social justice that are also at the root of ending AIDS.”

Photo of AIDS Ribbon on Sidewalk by new1mproved on Flickr.


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