"Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise"
Remove all forms of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation
At the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) held in June 2001, a declaration of commitment with regards to HIV/AIDS was drawn up and signed by all the United Nations memberstates. This declaration states that governments will strive to “enact, strengthen or enforce, as appropriate, legislation regulations and other measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination and to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people living with HIV/AIDS and members of vulnerable groups…and develop strategies to combat stigma and social exclusion connected with the epidemic”.
In Guyana, one of the vulnerable groups is men who have sex with men (MSM). Ironically, this term was created precisely because of the rabid discrimination associated with the word ‘gay’, making these men who have sex with men reluctant to classify and include themselves in such a vilified group as the homosexual population. Members of this vulnerable group therefore suffer the mostsevere stigma and discrimination as it is two-fold – that associated with the virus and that associated with their sexual orientation.
SASOD posits that the government of Guyana has a poor track record with regards to ensuring the fundamental human rights of the homosexual population are respected in that the only legal form of discrimination that exist is against homosexual men. But as the UNGASS declaration makes clear, legislative anti-discrimination initiatives are an essential and integral part of ensuring that there is a comprehensive response to this pandemic, making access, care, education and support available to all without added societal or legal barriers.
The link between discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and the spread of HIV is put forward succinctly in the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network Information Sheet: “HIV is transmitted among men who have sex with men not just because of unsafe sex. It is transmitted because homosexual or bisexual identity is not acknowledged, permitted, and supported as a natural development of human personality. It is transmitted because families, communities, and society tolerate or support, implicitly or explicitly, aggression, abuse, and violence against gay men and lesbians. It is transmitted because schools have failed to provide appropriate education and to cultivate supportive environments for gay and bisexual youth. It is transmitted because health-care providers and researchers have failed, because of insufficient awareness and inappropriate assumptions, to ask the right questions and it is transmitted because governments have been slow publicly to support programs directed specifically to men who have sex with men”.
The theme for this year’s World AIDS day is “Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise”. We urge the government and all citizens of Guyana to remember as well the promise to ensure the “full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms” by persons living with HIV/AIDS and to bare in mind that until all forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are removed, this is one promise that will be broken.