At the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City this week, there
has been a great deal of discussion about violence and discrimination
directed at homosexuals and lesbians, often based on the mistaken
assumption that they are responsible for the disease. As VOA's Greg
Flakus reports from Mexico City, participants in the conference also
see improvements in attitudes as a result of education and government
actions to protect people from discrimination.
officials and organizations working to diminish the impact of AIDS
around the world agree that more tolerant societies have better
programs to combat AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases. But,
they say, discrimination against those whose sexual orientation differs
from the norm, whether official, cultural or religious, often works
against efforts to control the spread of the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
nation that has taken steps in recent years to address the problem of
discrimination against gays is the conference host nation, Mexico.
"What we have done is, first, an amendment to the
constitution," said Dr. Jorge Saavedra, director of the Mexican National HIV/AIDS
Program. "It was done in 2001. It states that no one can be
discriminated against because of his or her preferences and then the
national law was approved. It is a national law against discrimination
and it addresses specifically sexual orientation," he said.
says anti-gay discrimination and occasional violence continue in Mexico
and other Latin American nations in spite of laws against such actions
and that public education is still needed to change attitudes.
says that Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are the leading nations in Latin
America in terms of protecting gay rights. Globally, he says the
countries that are most advanced in their non-discrimination policies
are The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain and South Africa, all of
which allow people of the same sex to marry.
Joel Nana, a native
of Cameroon who works with a gay rights group in South Africa, says
efforts by outsiders to influence governments in Africa have sometimes
been counterproductive because of the impression many Africans have
that gay sex is something being imposed from outside.
behavior has existed in Africa since the world was the world. But the
language we now use to call the behavior is new and it is the language
that freaks people and it is the language that makes people feel this
is an imposition from the West. So what I would tell our European and
American brothers would be to be wary of the way they introduce the
issue to various governments. They should build on the issue of the
behavior rather than the language," he said.
The situation for
gays in the Middle East and Asia is especially difficult. Shivananda
Khan, Chair of the Asia-Pacific Coalition on Male Sex Health and a
resident of India, said, "We are trying to find ways of creating dialogue
with Islamic leaders and Hindu leaders and Buddhist leaders to enable
them to understand the diversity of sexuality in human cultures. Right
now, if I were to speak about issues of sexuality in Iran I could
potentially get hanged. In India I could be arrested and in Afghanistan
and Pakistan I could also be arrested."
Khan says he
sees signs of hope because of recent inter-faith dialogues between
Christian leaders and Muslim leaders on the issue of ending violence
against gays. He also notes that many of the discriminatory laws in his
part of the world originated from the British and were based on their
Delegates from other parts of the world say
religion has often played a role in anti-gay discrimination and acts of
intolerance, but they note that some religious leaders, like Bishop
Desmond Tutu of South Africa, have been champions of
anti-discrimination. Some Christian leaders have encouraged more
tolerance, citing the call to love thy neighbor. Members of some gay
organizations say they see real opportunities for dialogue with
religious leaders on this issue.