This stark report from the September issue of The Atlantic describes how rampant homophobia in Jamaica forces the gay community underground, inhibiting efforts at AIDS education and treatment. One has to wonder whether similar factors are contributing to the epidemic in some African countries, where anyone suspected of being gay runs the risk of criminal punishment and mob violence. Then, to top it off, anti-gay pundits feed these statistics back to impressionable young men who are struggling with their sexual orientation, warning them that “the lifestyle” inevitably leads to misery, disease and early death.
From The Atlantic article by Micah Fink:
We may be accustomed to thinking of AIDS as most rampant in distant parts of the world like Africa, India, and South Asia. But these days the epidemic is flaring up a bit closer to home, in the Caribbean. Indeed, AIDS is now the leading cause of death among adults there, and the Caribbean’s rate of new infections is the second highest in the world, following just behind Sub-Saharan Africa.
A major factor in the region’s susceptibility to the epidemic is its pervasive atmosphere of homophobia, which makes education and outreach efforts nearly impossible. Jamaica, which lies near the middle of the Caribbean and, as of last year, was found to have an astounding 32 percent HIV infection rate among gay men, offers a case study in how anti-gay attitudes have helped spread and intensify the epidemic’s impact.
In Jamaica, homophobic attitudes are reflected in everything from laws that criminalize anal sex, to the lyrics of popular dancehall music that celebrates the murder of gay men, to widespread acts of anti-gay violence, and a gay culture of sexual secrecy and high-risk behavior. Each of these factors is intensified by a religious context that defines homosexuality as a mortal sin and points to the Bible for moral justification in violently rejecting the concerns of the gay community.
According to Dr. Robert Carr, widely recognized as one of the world’s leading researchers on cultural forces and the unfolding of the AIDS pandemic, local awareness of the disease was initially shaped by the international media: “AIDS was seen as a disease of gay, White, North American men. And people were really afraid of it.”
“There were no treatments available in the Caribbean at the time,” he says, “so AIDS really was a death sentence. You had people with Kaposi’s sarcoma, people with violent diarrhea, who were just wasting away and then dying in really horrible and traumatic ways.” The terror induced by these deaths, combined with an already intense local culture of homophobia to produce a violent backlash. “To call what was going on here ‘stigma and discrimination’ was really an understatement,” he says. “In the ghettos they were putting tires around people who had AIDS and lighting the tires on fire. They were killing gay people because they thought AIDS was contagious. It was a very extreme environment, and really horrible things were happening.”…
Experts are increasingly convinced that getting AIDS under control here will require putting out not just general public health messages to the whole population, but targeted ones, directed at those most at risk. “A good starting point,” Maluwa suggests, “would be to openly design programs [for the gay population], just like we have programs to address the general population, to address children.” And these programs, she contends, should come complete with “adequate commodities, such as lubricants and condoms.”
But the social and political environment makes such targeted public health assistance nearly impossible—in part because the gay community is afraid to come forward to receive it, and in part because the (frequently violent) intolerance gays face makes AIDS a relatively less pressing concern….
Read the whole story here.