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UNAIDS urges all countries to decriminalize homosexuality as a vital step in ensuring health for all

UNAIDS reports that in countries where same sex relations are criminalized, HIV prevalence is five times higher among gay men and men who have sex with men than in countries where same sex relations are not criminalized. Where there have been recent prosecutions, this increases to 12 times higher.

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels.com

Around the world, 67 countries still criminalize same sex relations, with 10 imposing the death penalty. 20 countries criminalize gender diversity. Such laws hurt the public health of everyone, costing lives. Public health and human rights go hand in hand.

“The importance of decriminalizing homosexuality and gender diversity cannot be underestimated,” said Christine Stegling, Deputy Executive Director, Policy, Advocacy and Knowledge, UNAIDS. “Decriminalizing will save lives and is a crucial step towards equality, dignity, and health for all.”

Across all cultures, sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression are diverse. LGBTQI+ people are part of every society in every country since time immemorial, yet LGBTQI+ people continue to be marginalized and excluded—be it legally, culturally, socially or a combination of all.

Criminalization, along with pervasive discrimination and violence, obstructs LGBTQI+ people from accessing life-saving services. In a growing number of cases, health service providers are also experiencing being harassed by vigilantes or police for providing life-saving services to LGBTQI+ people.

UNAIDS reports that in countries where same sex relations are criminalized, HIV prevalence is five times higher among gay men and men who have sex with men than in countries where same sex relations are not criminalized. Where there have been recent prosecutions, this increases to 12 times higher.

Recognizing that criminal laws have a detrimental impact on the HIV response, United Nations member states at the UN General Assembly committed to ambitious targets in the 2021 Political Declaration on HIV to remove criminal laws that are undermining the HIV response and leaving key populations behind. Recognizing decriminalization as a critical element in the HIV response, countries made a commitment that by 2025, less than 10% of countries would have punitive legal and policy environments that affect the HIV response.

There has been a positive wave of progress. In the past year Antigua & Barbuda, St Kitts & Nevis, Singapore, Barbados and the Cook Islands have repealed old colonial laws which had criminalized same-sex relations. Kuwait’s court overturned a law that had criminalized “imitating the opposite sex”.

Brazil is among the countries driving forward progress in advancing the human rights of LGBTQI+ people. The Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Rights will announce that the country will be joining the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate All Forms of HIV-related Stigma and Discrimination during an event on 17 May. The event will focus on access to care and justice for trans and gender-diverse communities.

However, running counter to the wave of progress is a renewed, well-funded, well-organized international drive to sow prejudice and push discriminatory and harmful new anti-homosexuality legislation and anti-trans legislation.

If enacted into law, this legislation will have extremely damaging consequences for public health, obstructing LGBTQI + people from accessing health services, and obstructing health workers from providing, life-saving services including services to prevent and treat HIV. It is vital for public health that this harmful push be stopped.

On International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, UNAIDS called on all countries to remove punitive laws and tackle prejudices against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. A more just, equitable and kind world is a healthier one, for everyone.

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