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The UN International Declaration on HIV’s “Opt-Out” Clause for MSM

Prior to the 8-10 June 2011 High-Level Meeting on AIDS at the United Nations in New York, The World Bank issued a press release, "Better HIV/AIDS Programs for Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) Could Significantly Slow Global Epidemic.”

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

15th June 2011 16:48

Alessia Valenza

The tepid paragraph on MSM in the International Declaration on HIV approved at the UN General Assembly today provides an "opt-out" clause for "specific populations." At the heart of this policy failure is a coalition of religious ideologues.

The World Bank press release issued at the beginning of the High-Level Meeting on AIDS places the importance of access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and human rights for LGBTI persons in a global context.

On the eve of a UN summit to renew global efforts to reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic, 30 years after the first discovery of the HIV virus, a new World Bank study urges governments and their development donors to provide better HIV prevention, care, and treatment services for men who have sex with men (MSM) as an essential step toward reversing the global epidemic. More than 25 million people have died of HIV/AIDS since the virus was first clinically identified in 1981.

Written in close partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the new study Global HIV Epidemics Among Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM): Epidemiology, Prevention, Access to Care and Human Rights provides the first comprehensive economic analysis of evidence that MSM are at significantly higher risk for HIV infection than other groups in many low- and middle-income countries, where fewer than 1 in 10 MSM worldwide have access to even basic HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment services.

Research among MSM has been limited by social discrimination and the criminalization of their behavior, along with limited funding for HIV/AIDS programs that help MSM. The study suggests that these social factors make MSM vulnerable to HIV infection as well as limiting their access to HIV/AIDS treatment and care.

The UN Document, Implementation of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS (A/65/L.77), approved by the UN General Assembly today makes a tepid mention of MSM in Section 29 and then provides an "opt-out" clause for "specific populations."

29. Note that many national HIV prevention strategies inadequately focus on populations that epidemiological evidence shows are at higher risk, specifically men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers, and further note, however, that each country should define the specific populations that are key to its epidemic and response, based on the epidemiological and national context;

The Coalition of Religious Ideologues

The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle attended the 2011 High Level Meeting on AIDS at the UN and wrote an important perspective in the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News about the growing influence of religious fundamentalism at the UN that resulted in this policy failure.

Impact on global HIV strategies and services by an unholy Trinity

This week at the United Nations, coalition blocks of African and Arab countries will defend their collective decisions that these “criminal” populations should not be listed for services or funding in the next wave of global AIDS funding.

In the proposed International Declaration on HIV that is being negotiated at the UN this week, over 400 civil society partners have fought for inclusion of naming LGBT people, men who have sex with men (MSM), IV drug users and sex workers.

A Mormon-led organization Family Watch International attempted to exclude all references to these populations with an emphasis on the “elimination” of the behaviors.” They framed a well-organized strategy that included a trip for 30 national delegations for a weekend conference in January and created significant papers and suggested changes to the draft declarations. Their agenda was to reduce LGBT people to mere “behaviors” that need to be healed through so-called reparative therapy. It is not surprising to learn their Uganda representative is the Rev. Martin Ssempa, who is one of Bahati’s key supporters and proponent of so called “ex-gay” therapy.

The Vatican, also part of this coalition, released a statement on Sexual Orientation to fully clarify its position that LGBT people do not have “an identity.” They, too, see homosexuality as an “intrinsically disordered” behavior that needs to be repaired. Homosexuality is a choice or “preference” and not an orientation that deserves a separate identity.

Under the smokescreen of shared family values, these powerful UN lobbies almost succeeded in having LGBT issues (and wider minority community populations known to be at risk for HIV because of legal barriers mentioned above) completely excluded from the final political document. The current draft barely notes the existence of MSM and intravenous drug users and sex workers and does not mention LGBT people at all. The UN’s unholy Trinity of Mormons, Vatican diplomats and Evangelicals is a re-run of Proposition 8 with global and long-term consequences.

The absence of significant LGBT leadership from the USA during these UN deliberations is also a factor that is giving the unholy Trinity a free range. We need to monitor and “map out” what this unholy Trinity is doing, not just in the USA, but globally to undermine LGBT and other minority community human rights and services.

Over 400 global Civil Society organizations, including the St. Paul’s Foundation, are working very hard to encourage the global body to explicitly include these populations because it will mean countries will be more accountable to engage these communities and fund new programs. The Global South, pulling together to share best practices and funding are split on this debate. South Africa broke with the monolithic African delegation that refused to mention the populations and shared their position that any form of discrimination was against their constitution. Mexico delivered a powerful speech on the floor of the Assembly calling for inclusive strategies and joins Brazil and other South American (largely Catholic) countries to continue to challenge the Vatican’s position and any deliberate attempts to drop any reference to these marginalized at risk populations.

Ironically some of these individual countries in the Global South are independently admitting they need to somehow address HIV prevention for MSM, IV drug users and sex workers but are still unable to address it as an international block. It is a form of institutional homophobia on a global scale.

Uganda is one of the countries that have been unwilling and unable to discuss the issues openly, even from a sound public health strategy because of the influence of American-led Christian fundamentalism and Musevene’s personal homophobia. It was totally inappropriate for the President to talk about fighting homosexuality at a religious festival, but this fusion of religious homophobia and state criminalization is the “elephant in the room.” The Bahati bill also proposed criminal penalties for LGBT with HIV thus driving the already traumatized community even further from sources of information and support. Behind these seemingly “harmless” religious observances in relatively obscure places like Uganda, a very definite form of theologically motivated “cleansing” is taking place that will ultimately claim millions of lives if the misinformation is not challenged as inaccurate propaganda.