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Calling out the Church’s homophobia (and ignorance)

NGO TLF Share stresses that the gay, bisexual, and transgender community is vulnerable to HIV not because they are not following Catholic teachings, but because of the stigmatizing attitudes and statements of the Catholic hierarchy that’s exposing them to HIV risk.

The gay, bisexual, and transgender community is vulnerable to HIV not because they are not following Catholic teachings, but because of the stigmatizing attitudes and statements of the Catholic hierarchy that’s exposing them to HIV risk.

This, stressed the TLF Share, an NGO working for the sexual health and human rights of Filipino gays, bisexuals, transgenders and other men who have sex with men, is an important lesson to be learned, following the statement made by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) blaming gay men’s refusal to follow Catholic teachings for the increase in new HIV cases in the Philippines.

“The Church hierarchy has consistently undermined the HIV response in the Philippines through its rejection of evidence-based strategies that countries all over the world used to halt their HIV epidemics,” The NGO said in a statement.

As such, “CBCP has caused more harm by resorting to homophobia to explain why there’s a growing HIV epidemic in the country. It is causing more injury by using the HIV epidemic to flog one of its favorite whipping boys, the gay, bisexual and transgender community, which is already suffering immeasurable pain and heartbreak due to the growing AIDS-related deaths within the community. Church-fueled stigma is contributing to the rise in HIV infection because it is promoting a climate of ignorance and silence.”

In an earlier Philippine Daily Inquirer report, Bishop Gabriel Reyes of Antipolo, who is the chairman of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, claimed that the Catholic Church should not be blamed for the steep rise in HIV infections in the Philippines. He noted, instead, the rise on infection rates among men having sex with men, who are not exactly known to follow the Church’s teachings against same-sex relations. “With all due respect (to the gay community), HIV is increasing among homosexuals or men who have sex with men. I’m sure if they are having sex with men, they don’t follow the rules of the Church,” Reyes was quoted as saying. “I’m sure they are using condoms. If you follow the Church, you will not be using condoms. This threat among them is the highest. They will not mind the teaching of the Church, the main teaching against same-sex intercourse.”

Reyes was similarly quoted for saying that condoms were not effective in preventing the spread of HIV because they have “holes” big enough for the virus to pass through. This claim has been debunked by the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Population Fund, and the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS.

TLF Share stressed that the bishop is incorrect. “It is not gay sex that spreads HIV, it is unprotected sex. The gay, bisexual, and transgender community is vulnerable to HIV not because they are not following Catholic teachings; on the contrary, it is the stigmatizing attitudes and statements of the Catholic hierarchy that’s exposing them to HIV risk. The Church hierarchy has consistently undermined the HIV response in the Philippines through its rejection of evidence-based strategies that countries all over the world used to halt their HIV epidemics.”

TLF Share added that as a community, “we do not see ourselves as victims of this epidemic. We know that we can empower our own community so that we could fight back against an epidemic that we know, by evidence, we can prevent and halt. But stigma stifles our actions. It forces members of our community to go underground, and suffer or die in silence. They do not access life-saving HIV services because they are constantly stigmatized and dehumanized by institutions like the Catholic Church. False claims being made by CBCP on homosexuality and the alleged ineffectiveness of condoms foster ignorance.”

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The NGO highlighted the need for accurate information in the issue of the rising number of HIV infections in the Philippines, but “the CBCP is muddling the information received by the public through claims based on their religious ideology, and not on facts or evidence. We believe that it is exactly because of false claims such as those of the CBCP’s that the vulnerability of the gay, bisexual and transgender community is reinforced.”

For TLF Share , the CBCP’s “imposition of Catholic teachings on issues beyond religious concerns creates an environment of stigma and discrimination for the MSM community, which makes access to proper education as well as necessary services and commodities difficult. If indeed the Church leadership wants to help in ending AIDS, then it must stick to evidence. It also must stop causing further harm against communities that are affected by or vulnerable to HIV. The discussion on HIV and AIDS is beyond religious teachings and though the cooperation of everyone, including the Catholic Church, is needed to stop the epidemic, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of facts.”

For more information, contact TLF Share at tlfmanila@gmail.com or call (+632) 3583811.

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