19 September 2009

Timor Leste Red Cross excludes homosexuals from HIV-AIDS Reduction Program

ETLJB 19 September 2009 Before the undemocratically-formulated Constitution was adopted in East Timor in 2002, constitutional protection for homosexuals in East Timor was expunged from an early draft. The then Constituent Assembly (the prototype of the present National Parliament) voted to remove gay protections from the new nation's draft constitution.

Fifty-two of the Assembly's 88 members specifically voted to exclude "sexual orientation" from an antidiscrimination clause. Discrimination was banned based only on "color, race, gender, marital status, ethnic origin, economic or social status, beliefs or ideology, politics, religion, education, and mental or physical condition."

One member of the assembly, Joao Carrascalao, (who was the East Timor Transitional Administration's Minister for Infrastructure) called homosexuality "an illness" and "an anomaly" and said protecting gays would create "social chaos." Another member said the only homosexuals in East Timor are foreigners.

This is the grotesque and primitive social context in which HIV-AIDS prevention policies are supposed to operate in East Timor; a context in which the most basic rights of homosexual citizens are denied and in which homosexuals are publicly vilified by political leaders (some of whom were deeply engaged with the illegal Indonesian occupation and the universe of human rights violations perpetrated during the period from 1975 through to 1999).

This context is problematical not only for the civil rights of homosexuals in East Timor but also for HIV-AIDS prevention policies and it is reflected in a recent position vacant advertisement for an HIV-AIDS consultancy with the Red Cross.

In that advertisement, the Red Cross notes that it is one of the most active implementing organizations working in the National HIV/AIDS and STI Program, lead by the Ministry of Health. HIV/AIDS is emphasized in CVTL’s (Cruz Vermelha de Timo-Leste) Strategy 2006-2009 with the objective of increasing HIV/AIDS knowledge and its prevention in youth and Most at Risk Groups (MARGs). Since 2005 CVTL has been involved in HIV programs with MARG including transport workers, clients of sex workers and female sex workers.

The job advertisement continues: "CVTL are currently receiving a grant for their activities with MARGs, specifically clients of female sex workers and men with multiple partners. Funding is from the Ministry Of Health, and is part of the country’s Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) grant. This grant started in January 2008 and will continue until December 2011.

Not a single mention of outreach programs for homosexual men in East Timor! Homosexual men are the most "at risk" group for HIV-AIDS transmission!

The "results" that are expected to be achieved by the Red Cross HIV-AIDS program in East Timor are to continue its "successful implementation" of their grant to reduce the risk of STI and HIV/AIDS transmission among clients of female sex workers and men with multiple partners, in four districts – Dili, Bobonaro Covalima and Oeccusse.

But how can any HIV-AIDS reduction policy claim to be such so long as it omits that part of the community that is most vulnerable to HIV-AIDS; namely, the gay community.

The Red Cross HIV-AIDS program in East Timor is also purposed to increase knowledge and practice of safer sex behavior in those limited target populations through outreach targeting reduction in the number of partners, mutual monogamy and/or using condoms correctly and consistently.

How can HIV-AIDS transmission be stopped by monogamy and the suppression of promiscuity? Monogamy is a myth. Promiscuity is the natural condition of the human being.

The policy failure here extends not only to this fatally-flawed HIV-AIDS reduction program from the East Timor Ministry of Health and the Red Cross but also to a lack of advocacy by the many so-called human rights groups in East Timor; a lack of advocacy for the enactment of laws that protect the rights of homosexual men and women and a vacuum in the agitation for laws that criminalise the vilification of homosexuals and homosexuality and which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The obscurantist approach to HIV-AIDS and homosexuality in East Timor is heavily influenced by the antidemocratic and antihuman ideology of the Catholic Church and the propagation of religious doctrines rather than the rational objectives of secular public health policies.*

What a despicable program! East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin condemns the Red Cross and the Government of East Timor for the exclusion of the gay community from its supposed HIV-AIDS reduction policies. This exclusion is tantamount to an endorsement of homophobia and it colludes in the vilification of homosexuals in East Timor and the exposure of homosexual citizens to hate crimes.

But worst of all, it constitutes a guaranteed failure of the policy and the Red Cross program. The central message of the HIV-AIDS programs must prioritise - not moral lectures on sexuality - but the primacy of the deployment of condoms, proper public information campaigns and the protection of HIV-AIDS-vulnerable population's civil rights as the most effective holistic strategy for the reduction of HIV-AIDS transmission. And the primary "target populations" must include the gay community. But this appalling program does neither of these things!

The Center for HIV Law and Policy concludes that it is homophobia that is a significant barrier to HIV diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, and a critical public health issue.

Homophobia and heterosexism interfere with appropriate health care access and services for homosexuals, feed support for counterproductive abstinence-until-marriage programming, fuel antigay social policies and other violence, and otherwise marginalize gay people of all ages.

Studies consistently demonstrate that homophobia contributes to the spread of HIV and that internalized homophobia increases HIV risk.

The Red Cross program should, at the very least, be providing access to information on issues related to homophobia and HIV, including discrimination, stigma, sexuality education, and access to care. Instead, it violates the required public health objectives by entirely omitting homosexuality from the program parameters.

A recent study found that homophobia creates a significant health hazard and directly undermines important public health initiatives. One impact of homophobia is that many men who have sex with men, particularly young men, do not disclose their sexual orientation in order to avoid social isolation, discrimination, abuse, and violence. Young gay and bisexual men may be at higher risk for HIV infection as a consequence of low self-esteem, depression, and lack of peer support and related services available to those who are more open about their sexual orientation and identity.

But only the most courageous homosexuals in East Timor will stand up and demand that the state protect their legitimate interests.

HIV/STD Risks in Young Men Who Have Sex with Men Who Do Not Disclose Their Sexual Orientation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

* see, for example, Gays outraged by Pope's 'homophobic attack' December 24, 2008

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See also
Homosexuality in East Timor
Blog for Timorese Gay Guys
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The New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 provides as follows:

Part 4C – Discrimination on the ground of homosexuality

Division 1 – General
49ZF Interpretation
A reference in this Part to a person's homosexuality includes a reference to the person's being thought to be a homosexual person, whether he or she is in fact a homosexual person or not.

49ZG What constitutes discrimination on the ground of homosexuality
(1) A person ("the perpetrator") discriminates against another person ("the aggrieved person") on the ground of homosexuality if, on the ground of the aggrieved person's homosexuality or the homosexuality of a relative or associate of the aggrieved person, the perpetrator:
(a) treats the aggrieved person less favourably than in the same circumstances, or in circumstances which are not materially different, the perpetrator treats or would treat a person who he or she did not think was a homosexual person or who does not have such a relative or associate who he or she thinks was a homosexual person, or
(b) requires the aggrieved person to comply with a requirement or condition with which a substantially higher proportion of persons who are not homosexual persons, or who do not have such a relative or associate who is a homosexual person, comply or are able to comply, being a requirement which is not reasonable having regard to the circumstances of the case and with which the aggrieved person does not or is not able to comply.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) (a), something is done on the ground of a person's homosexuality if it is done on the ground of the person's homosexuality, a characteristic that appertains generally to homosexual persons or a characteristic that is generally imputed to homosexual persons.

Division 4 – Homosexual vilification
49ZS Definition
In this Division:

"public act" includes:

(a) any form of communication to the public, including speaking, writing, printing, displaying notices, broadcasting, telecasting, screening and playing of tapes or other recorded material, and
(b) any conduct (not being a form of communication referred to in paragraph (a)) observable by the public, including actions and gestures and the wearing or display of clothing, signs, flags, emblems and insignia, and
(c) the distribution or dissemination of any matter to the public with knowledge that the matter promotes or expresses hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group.

49ZT Homosexual vilification unlawful
(1) It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group.
(2) Nothing in this section renders unlawful:
(a) a fair report of a public act referred to in subsection (1), or
(b) a communication or the distribution or dissemination of any matter on an occasion that would be subject to a defence of absolute privilege (whether under the Defamation Act 2005 or otherwise) in proceedings for defamation, or
(c) a public act, done reasonably and in good faith, for academic, artistic, religious instruction, scientific or research purposes or for other purposes in the public interest, including discussion or debate about and expositions of any act or matter.

49ZTA Offence of serious homosexual vilification
(1) A person must not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group by means which include:
(a) threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or
(b) inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.
Maximum penalty:
In the case of an individual--10 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both.
In the case of a corporation--100 penalty units.
(2) A person is not to be prosecuted for an offence under this section unless the Attorney General has consented to the prosecution.
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