Sexuality-related stigma impedes access to existing services

Globally, men who have sex with men (MSMs) and transgenders have a higher rate of HIV incidence, due to appalling attention towards their health needs. In the words of Shivananda Khan, who was conferred upon the prestigious Order of The British Empire (OBE) by the British Queen, for his services to HIV/AIDS prevention and among marginalized communities in South Asia, and leader of Naz Foundation International (NFI), "unless we create an atmosphere in which the transgenders and MSMs can access appropriate health services, to reduce their vulnerability to HIV, they will constitute more than 50% of the people living with HIV, by the year 2020.This is bound to have a tremendous economic impact on governments and societies by way of increased expenditures on treatment and care." Read more


Shivananda Khan is one of the keynote speakers at the High Level Dialogue to discuss punitive laws, human rights and HIV prevention among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Asia Pacific, in Hong Kong on 17th May to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.

Existing healthcare and other services are not sensitive towards people with different/ alternate sexuality, said Arif Jafar, Executive Director, Maan Foundation of India. Arif felt that in normal health settings, there is no sensitization towards people with alternate sexual preferences. The healthcare services are so stigmatized against LGBT,that for a long time HIV/AIDS was blamed on homosexuals. Arif rues that no government hospital in India is comfortable enough for a hijra (transgender) to line up with the other patients, even for availing normal healthcare services. Even the doctors ask them to sit in a corner, far away from the madding crowd, and then give them moral preaching. He narrated an incident wherein a doctor, who was a trained counselor and who had been sensitized on this issue, squarely blamed a feminized male for some infection he was suffering from.


Shivananda Khan believes that it is not only the attitude of doctors/ healthcare workers, but also the environment in which the healthcare systems exist that matters. The discriminatory attitude of the family, government, police, religious leaders combine together to create a multiple complex environment, in which the LGBTs are denied access to basic health rights.

The process of discrimination starts from early childhood, when a young boy gets attracted to a man. Due to societal indoctrination, he feels that as he is not behaving like a man, he must not be a male. He then starts behaving as a woman to justify his affinity to men. This makes him more visible and noticed by others. His feminine actions invite jeers, taunts and harassment by the peers in school. Later on it takes the form of violence, rape and physical abuse. Even the parents fail to understand this alternate sexuality of their child. Obviously, the school dropout rate for such people is very high, resulting in low levels of education, and hence or otherwise, fewer job opportunities for them.

Shivananda Khan advocates a three pronged strategy to reduce this malaise of the different sexuality people. The first level involves policy decisions which enable governments to repeal, amend and create new laws which makes social and health service more accessible to them. This would create a conducive and enabling environment.

At the second level it should be ensured that decision makers are sensitized to the different issues and needs affecting these people. This would help in implementing the policies in a better manner.

At the third level lie the parents, siblings, teachers; religious leaders need to treat them at par with other so called normal citizens. This would result in the universal access to health care and human rights, without discrimination.

The media can play a very proactive role in this whole process of sensitization and desensitization. It can act as an important vehicle to lay bare the truth and not create an attitude. There is need to disseminate information which is already available. The media should not chase stories to increase their TRP, but create an atmosphere of trust without any discrimination.

So be sensitive without being sensational.

Let's hope the media engagement at the forthcoming High Level Dialogue in Hong Kong to mark the International Day Against Homophobia is meaningful, and genuine. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (ACPOM) and the Center for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) at the Faculty of Law, The University of Hong Kong will also release the key findings and recommendations of the UNDP-APCOM study entitled: "Laws affecting HIV responses among men who have sex with men and transgender people in Asia and the Pacific: an agenda for action" during this High Level Dialogue to honour the International Day against Homophobia on Monday, 17th May 2010.


Shobha Shukla
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service(CNS), Director of CNS Diabetes Media Initiative, and CNS Gender Initiative, has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP, and teaches Physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. She is an invited journalist supported by the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) and CNS, reporting on the International Day Against Homophobia from the High Level Dialogue in Hong Kong. Email: shobha@citizen-news.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)


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