Activists say India ruling criminalizing homosexuality hurts HIV fight

Activists say India ruling criminalizing homosexuality hurts HIV fight

NEW DELHI — Gay rights activists and health workers in India are warning that a new Supreme Court ruling criminalizing homosexuality will undo years of progress in fighting AIDS by driving gay and transgender people underground.


They say HIV services expanded and gay and transgender people became more likely to seek them out after a landmark 2009 ruling decriminalized same-sex acts by throwing out a colonial-era law. India’s top court revived the law Dec. 11, saying it is up to the country’s lawmakers – not the court – to change it.


Activists fear the ruling will make gays and transgender people too fearful to seek treatment or counseling, driving HIV infections up. Indian health officials said last year that annual new HIV infections among adults had fallen 57 percent over the previous decade.


The reinstated law calls homosexuality an “unnatural offense” punishable by 10 years in jail. Criminal prosecutions were rare when the law was previously in force, but police used it to harass people and demand bribes.


“This law has made us all criminals,” said Lakshmi Tripathi, a transgender activist who added that the law will stop many people from approaching doctors or health clinics for prevention or treatment for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.


“How can I go to an HIV/AIDS clinic?” asked Tripathi. “If I did, I can be hauled into jail for my lifestyle, for violating the law.”


Health activists say that before the law was overturned in 2009, nongovernmental organizations that ran AIDS intervention centers faced the threat of police raids.


In 2005, police raided an HIV outreach center in the Indian capital and forced it to close, said Shaleen Rakesh of the India HIV/AIDS Alliance.


“This happened in New Delhi,” he said. “The situation in small towns and in the rural hinterland is much worse.”


UNAIDS said in a statement this month that the number of organizations providing HIV services to gay and transgender people rose more than 50 percent while homosexuality was decriminalized.


“After the 2009 ruling, we saw a jump in gay men, bisexuals and transgenders coming to public health centers on their own, seeking medical advice or treatment. They felt it was safe to do so,” said Ashok Row Kavi of the Humsafar Trust, a group working with the gay community.


“Our big worry now is that they may stay away from health centers out of fear,” he said.


India’s reversal comes as gays and lesbians worldwide rack up significant victories in their quest for marriage equality and other rights. Same-sex marriage has legal recognition in 18 countries, 18 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.


Source: LGBTQ nation