Criminalising Love: working together to challenge state-sponsored homophobia

By Fionnuala Murphy, International HIV/AIDS Alliance

More than 70 countries around the world currently criminalise homosexuality, with punishments including life imprisonment, flogging and the death penalty. The last two years have brought a particularly virulent wave of criminalisation. Russia, Nigeria and Uganda have all introduced new laws which ban private and public expressions of homosexuality, while last December the Indian Supreme Court overturned an earlier High Court ruling that section 377 of the Indian Penal Code did not apply to same sex acts among consenting adults.

Don't criminalise meCriminalisation seriously undermines LGBT people’s human rights, and it also stands in the way of an effective HIV response.  Globally, men who have sex with men are 19 times more likely to contract HIV than other men, and transgender people are up to 49 times more likely to become HIV positive than the general population.  In countries where it is a crime to be gay, these populations are often afraid to come forward and access HIV prevention, testing or treatment for fear of being stigmatised, turned away or even reported to the police.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance has worked with LGBT communities since 1994, supporting groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America to bring about step-by-step change.  In Uganda for example we have provided support and funding over the last five years to strengthen the national network, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). With assistance from partners in India, we have worked with SMUG on a monitoring framework which has since enabled them to demonstrate unprecedented levels of violence, arrest and other human rights abuses against LGBT people since the Ugandan parliament voted for the Anti Homosexuality Act in December 2013.  Using data from the framework, SMUG and other petitioners recently persuaded the Ugandan High Court to hear a constitutional challenge against the Act. On August 1st, the Court declared the new law illegal.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance has also supported LGBT organisations in Uganda and other countries to improve their advocacy skills and to build links with the international community.  Through our own advocacy, we have urged donor countries including the UK to adopt long term strategies to advance LGBT rights, and to ensure consequences for governments or individuals that incite hatred or violate LGBT people’s rights.

Our latest briefing, Challenging Criminalisation of LGBT People, calls for multi-sectoral approaches which build coalitions between civil society, trade unions, the health sector, faith groups, businesses and others. In partnership with Brunswick we have brought together a number of major multinationals, several of whom now plan to establish a global group of businesses against homophobia.

Labour has a brave track record on LGBT rights.  The last Labour government introduced civil partnerships, banned discrimination in employment, goods and services and equalised the age of consent.  Labour also has an outstanding record on international development and on HIV.  In its 2005 manifesto, Labour included a pledge of universal access to HIV treatment.  Tony Blair and Gordon Brown went on to secure support for this target at the 2005 G8 summit in Scotland, saving millions of lives and revolutionising the global AIDS response.

Marc and Ricardo heartBuilding on this proud history, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance is keen to explore how a Labour government could work with other sectors to challenge the rise in state-sponsored homophobia around the world.  We are hosting a panel debate at next week’s Labour Party Conference which will bring together MPs, civil society, the private sector and the trade union movement.

The debate is a rare opportunity to hear directly from Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda and winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.  Frank will be joined by Pamela Nash MP, Chair of the APPG on HIV and AIDS and Shadow DFID Health Spokesperson, and Kerry McCarthy MP, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, alongside Maria Exall, Chair of the TUC LGBT Committee and Richard Meredith, Co-Head of Brunswick’s Crisis Advisory Group.

The panel debate takes place today, Tuesday 23 September, 12.45-14.15, in the Global Development Hub at Charter Gallery, Manchester Central, inside the secure zone.  Lunch is provided.  For further information, please contact Leila Zadeh:

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance is a unique alliance of national civil society organisations dedicated to ending AIDS through community action.



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