Facing the Issues of MSM and HIV

By Rob Banaszak on July 24, 2012 in 2012 International AIDS Conference

by Dr. Russell Brewer
Director of HIV, STDs, and Reproductive Health
Louisiana Public Health Institute
New Orleans, LA

The theme of the MSM Global Forum pre-conference held on July 21, 2012 was “From Stigma to Strength.” This theme could not be more fitting given that MSM from all corners of the world experience stigma, homophobia, criminalization, and discrimination in their everyday lives. These experiences affect their ability to access HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. The MSM Global Forum pre-conference began with an announcement by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) that she has introduced a new bill called “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic Act of 2012″ that lays out a policy and financial framework to creating an AIDS- free generation in the United States and worldwide. It’s great to see policy makers taking a leadership role in ending the HIV epidemic.

The introduction of the next speaker (the Hon. Michael Kirby with the Global Commission on HIV and the Law) by Robert Suttle, Assistant Director of the SERO project (www.seroproject.com) provided a face and story of an individual (Robert Suttle) who was convicted and incarcerated in Louisiana for HIV non-disclosure. I’ve read about HIV criminalization and how it perpetuates stigma but I’ve never actually heard a story from someone who was impacted by this law. The presentation that followed by the Hon. Michael Kirby really hit home for me in terms of the devastating impact of HIV among MSM not only in the United States but also globally and how laws that criminalize MSM will continue to fuel the epidemic. For example, Michael Kirby mentioned that 60% of new infections in the world are among MSM and fewer than 10% of MSM worldwide have access to treatment and preventive services. In addition, 41 of 54 countries that are part of the Commonwealth still criminalize MSM. We need leadership, education, and mobilization to help repeal these laws.

Later on during the day, Maurice Tomlinson, Legal Advisor with AIDS Free World gave the first Robert Carr Memorial Lecture to pay tribute to the life and legacy of the late LGBT activist Dr. Robert Carr.  Maurice describes himself as an accidental activist.  He actually wanted to be a patent lawyer but instead ended up being an advocate for all forms of marginalization that provide a safe harbor for HIV.  Maurice talked about his efforts to challenge the anti-buggery (male same sex intimacy) law in Jamaica.  In a recent survey, 82% of Jamaican people indicated that they were prejudiced against gay people. Maurice mentioned that in order for the law to be repealed, there needs to be ground swell support in the country and for the last few years, he and other activists have embarked on a plan to change the hearts and minds of Jamaicans through public education, walks and stands for tolerance, and other strategies. His presentation could not have stressed more the importance of challenging and repealing  human rights violations in order to end stigma and discrimination; and create safer and more tolerant environments that enhance access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

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