How legalised hatred affects the HIV response

This World Health Day (7 April) we take a look at how a lack of regard for LGBTI rights and blatant discriminatory laws are undermining the HIV response.

The reality of laws that affect life and liberty is something that Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), knows only too well.

As an openly gay and high profile activist he has to tell trusted people his movements each time he makes a simple, everyday journey in Kampala, should he not get to his destination. His close friend and colleague, David Kato, another high profile activist, was brutally murdered at home in 2011, a tragic testimony to why Frank has to exercise such caution.MSM group meet somewhere safe © Alliance

In our first edition of AIDS Today, which gives a snapshot of the current, global state of the HIV response, Frank explains the link between homophobia and increased risk of HIV infection in Smoking Out the Gays.

Originally writing in early 2014, he explained how the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda served to “fuel homophobic violence and put the lives of gay- identified people at significant risk... There have been numerous reports of communities attacking LGBTI because they are emboldened by the law.

In driving LGBTI people further underground, it makes it harder for them to safely access services, including for HIV prevention and treatment. [A] 2009 study found that men reporting a lifetime history of homophobic abuse are at increased risk of becoming HIV infected.”

On 1 August 2014, the Constitutional Court of Uganda ruled the law invalid, however the discrimination and harassment that the law inexplicitly legitimised, continues.

Fighting prejudice with facts

Striving for LGBTI rights, including the right to health, in this hostile, dangerous context has also emboldened Frank and other activists to not give up the fight, and he is fighting prejudice with facts.

Frank gives an in-depth look at the gains Uganda had made. Gains which were “hard-won” and which are now being reversed. Other factors he attributes to this reversal include corruption, and activities carried out by the Christian rights movement.

You can read Frank’s essay in full here.

And hear directly from Frank in this short video, produced while he was in Brighton, UK, when the law was in progress, talking about “feeling free”.

Similarities in India

Unfortunately it’s not just Uganda where we’re seeing a reversal of hard won gains in the HIV response. Our executive director, Alvaro Bermejo, blogs from his time India, a country which was leading the way but also where a re-emergence of homophobia is putting a comprehensive HIV response in jeopardy. Read "Incredible India, Invest in Communities!".

Write us in

At the end of this year ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ will replace the Millennium Development Goals. We’re striving to ensure that there is commitment to providing non-discriminatory health care to everyone, including LGBTI in all countries, so everyone can access the health services they are entitled to. As it stands, LGBTI and other discriminated people have been left out of the small print of the universal health target for 2015–30.

Related links

•    Human rights
•    Gay marriage in Namibia: “It’s all about love”