Anti-LGBTQ policies increase risk of HIV among gay & bi men

A person being tested for HIV in Uganda in 2017.
Photo: Shutterstock

Criminalizing homosexuality and punishing LGBTQ people severely puts them at a higher risk of getting HIV, according to a new study.

Men who have sex with men (MSM) were twice as likely to have HIV in sub-Saharan African countries where homosexuality is illegal. And MSM in countries that punish homosexuality with more than ten years in prison, like Nigeria and Gambia, were over 4.6 times more likely to have HIV than their counterparts in countries where homosexuality is legal.

Related: Ugandan police arrest 127 people at a queer bar for the crime of “smoking”

Researchers even adjusted the results for factors like age and education, according to the U.K. HIV organization AIDSmap.

Johns Hopkins University PhD candidate Carrie Lyons presented the study at the 23rd International AIDS Conference this year, which was based on a behavioral questionnaire and HIV tests conducted on over 8000 men in sub-Saharan African countries. Nineteen percent of participants were found to have HIV.

Several of the countries, like Gambia, Nigeria, and Cameroon, also ban organizations from advocating for LGBTQ people, and the study found that MSM in those countries were over twice as likely to have HIV.

HIV is often used to justify the criminalization of homosexuality. Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill singled out HIV as a form of “aggravated homosexuality” that would have been subject to additional penalties.

But public health officials have long said that homosexuality bans impede efforts to stop the virus.

“Criminalizing LGBT people and other key populations is utterly incompatible with the mandates of an effective HIV response,” said a letter from four African HIV experts last year in an attempt to stop Uganda from reviving its anti-LGBTQ bill.

“In 2018, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers and transgender people, together with their partners, accounted for a majority of new HIV infections, underscoring the need for governments to work with, not against, these communities who are most vulnerable to HIV.”

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