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Call to decriminalise homosexuality

CAROL MARTINDALE, [email protected]

Call to decriminalise homosexuality

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NASSAU, Bahamas – A leading Caribbean HIV/AIDS researcher today called on regional governments to consider the decriminalisation of homosexuality as part of the overall fight to stem the epidemic that killed more than 12,000 people in 2009.
Professor Peter Figueroa of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that he was “most impressed” with the announcement by The Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham at the start of the 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference, on Friday night that the country’s parliament had passed legislation to decriminalize homosexuality.
“This shows that this is possible and The Bahamas has had no adverse consequences and may well have had some positives in relation to their tourism and other relations,” he said, adding “The Bahamas has clearly shown that we can decriminalise men having sex with men”.
Figueroa, a professor of Public Health, Epidemiology and HIV/AIDS at the UWI, who made a presentation to the conference here, said he was certain that other Caribbean countries, despite their strong religious background, would not have objections to legislation dealing with the situation.
“So I think if we could frame the issue in terms of simple respect for one another and for individual’s humanity then we can take the initiative in terms of the human rights approach and decriminalize men who have sex with men,” he said.
“I think quite honestly our leaders are totally late on this question and if they explain it in this way to people they will accept it,” he told CMC, adding that throughout the Caribbean people are highly religious just like they are in the Bahamas.
He said in many countries where the practice of men were having sex with men had been decriminalised , the populations are largely religious “but we must stop making a moral issue of it…it is simply respecting the individual rights and choice to do what he does privately in the bedroom.
“We are not talking about imposing a lifestyle on anybody else,” he said, adding when it comes to leadership, there are times when the “leaders need to take the lead role explaining to people what they are doing and why they are doing it.
“That is the point about leadership and there is sufficient evidence worldwide now to show by simply respecting the right to sexual orientation you are not undermining anyone religious beliefs or public morality because you are just talking about giving them a choice”.
Figueroa acknowledged he was not advocating that decriminalizing homosexuality would automatically lead to a cure for the HIV/AIDS, saying “in many ways it can be a distraction to the many challenges and interests we face in addressing the epidemic.
He said issues such as poverty, marginalization, stigma and dealing with sex workers and other vulnerable groups were other challenges facing the regional countries where an estimated 240,000 people were now living with the disease.
“These kinds of things, all these cultural factors continue to drive the epidemic and our ability to talk in a sensible and reasonable way about sexual matters and the need to educate our young people…that is also extremely important.
“I am very concerned that we do not have the kind of sex education in schools in most of our countries,” he said noting that Suriname and the French Caribbean islands do “have more explicit sex education in schools “and in a control way they also have access to condoms for young people who are sexually active…”.
Figueroa, who is Chair of the UNAIDS HIV Prevention Reference Group and Deputy Chair of the Regional Coordinating Mechanism of the Pan Caribbean AIDS Partnership, (PANCAP), said it was also necessary for people infected with the virus to diligently take their medication, thereby preventing it from mutating and becoming resistant to the medication being provided under the anti-retroviral drugs (ARD) programmes being funded by some regional governments and international aid donors. (CMC)