Engaging LGBT Communities, Ending Discriminatory Policies Necessary To End AIDS

Highlighting the “debate about gay rights in the West,” Bertrand Audoin, executive director of the International AIDS Society, writes in a New York Times opinion piece, “Three decades of experience in responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic has provided indisputable evidence that depriving those groups most at risk of HIV infection of their human rights drives them underground.” He states, “[T]his deprivation of human rights goes beyond mere civil liberties: It is bad public health.” “In the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it was soon evident that the virus did not discriminate but that governments and people sometimes did,” he writes, adding, “Today stigma and discrimination still fuel the epidemic — and we need look no further than Russia to see how repression and inaction have worsened one of the fastest-growing HIV epidemics in the world.”

Audoin provides “estimates of the number of people in Russia living with HIV,” highlighting various policies and widespread discrimination affecting HIV rates among high-risk groups in the country. “The potential for HIV transmission among gay men in Russia as well as sub-Saharan Africa is very clear. At the same time, we know what steps can be taken that work to stem this tide,” he states. “Engaging the homosexual community in this battle brings broad public health benefits, and Australia is a case in point,” he writes, noting, “Containment of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Australia was a public health milestone — achieved through legislation that implicitly recognized the human rights of homosexuals.” He states, “Unfortunately political leaders in many parts of the world are the true drivers of the stigma against gays. But it is those very leaders who have a historic opportunity not only to end such discrimination but to make a major dent in one of the world’s most lethal pandemics in their own backyards” (8/20).