I had the pleasure of being present at a forum about Rights and Religion at the University of the West Indies recently. I arrived late but I was pleased by not only the large turnout of students, lecturers and other individuals but also by how engaging and vibrant the discussions were. The forum was particularly aimed at LGBT rights and issues. In Jamaica, the topic is generally considered taboo so it would have warmed every Human Rights activist’s heart to see such a response on one of the major universities in the country.
I was present for the last hour of the two hour session and the discussions ranged from sexual comparisons of incest, pedophilia and bestiality to HIV prevalence amount MSMs to one person’s claim that the gay rights movement in Jamaica could cause a sexual apartheid. Much to the obvious annoyance of the host (and myself I must admit) the questions were answered and the discussions continued.
Perhaps I arrived too late but while I was present there was one theme that was highlighted throughout the discussions and that is sex. It surprised me how much heterosexuals place so much emphasis on same sex intercourse as if your sexual orientation is determined by who you have sex with.
The HIV/AIDS argument by the anti-gay side of the debate bothered me immensely. They proposed the argument that homosexual men should not be tolerated because of the HIV/AIDS rate among men who have sex with men. Many went as far as to mention statistics from UNAIDS and organizations alike to support their claims. It’s interesting how much individuals can alter interpretation of statistics and in some cases ignore other statistics to enhance their points.
The intention of the HIV statistics presented by these organizations is to provide information about the groups affected by the virus and provide solutions on how to reduce and stop its spread in these groups. For example the HIV preventative methods for young adolescents would be different from the strategies used to tackle the spread among sex workers and men who have sex with men.
The anti-gay group used the statistics to argue that gay men should be intolerable and marginalized. I have a huge problem with this. I noted at the forum that in an act to prove their points individuals would become unsympathetic, not only toward homosexuals but unsympathetic in general. To compare homosexuality to pedophilia is degrading and it trivializes the act of pedophilia. Consenting sex between individuals cannot and should not be compared to rape, and yes, I will argue that pedophilia is a form of rape. However, that is ignored when the debate rages on by the anti-gay group.
That same apathy is given to persons living with HIV. To say that gay men should not be accepted because there is a high rate of HIV infections within the MSM group is unnecessary, offensive and discriminatory. They are suggesting that to reduce the HIV infection rate, these men should be isolated and their ‘lifestyle’ should be rejected. Since when is an HIV prevention method the intolerance of persons living with HIV? Isn’t that discrimination? Haven’t we passed that stage of thinking over ten years ago? Are we losing our sense of humanity?
The argument sounds rational to them because is supports their fight against homosexuals. Maybe they would see the absurdity of their claims if the noun was to be changed. If I wallowed in ignorance, based on the line of reasoning, I could easily say that women should be marginalized and scorned because they are the group with the highest percentage of HIV infections (this is a fact in the Caribbean). However, I am far too intelligent to know that is not the way to go. I know the ways to reduce HIV infections is by promoting condom usage and safe sex, among other methods. I know the importance of getting tested and knowing your status. Discriminating against those living with the infection is a primitive way of thinking. To reduce the rate of HIV infections among MSM, policies and laws must be put in place to ensure that these men have access to facilities and of course, promote the use of condoms.