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 PAHO TODAY          The Newsletter of the Pan American Health Organization   -    July 2008


PAHO Countries Tackle Homophobia

Member countries of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have launched new efforts to reduce discrimination against sexual minorities as part of larger efforts to control HIV and improve treatment and care for people living with the virus.

"I'm Hector, I'm gay, I'm Peruvian, and I have the same rights as you. We're Peruvians, We're Diverse, Let's Stay that Way," reads this poster from Peru's recently launched communication campaign against homophobia. Courtesy Ministry of Health of Peru

Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru have developed new programs and policies to reduce prejudice, stigma, and discrimination against homosexuals, transsexuals, transvestites, and transgender individuals. PAHO Director Mirta Roses praised their efforts on May 17, International Day against Homophobia.

"Hatred against people with different identities or sexual orientation is an assault on life itself and a violation of basic human rights," Roses said. "Scientists have not yet found a cure for HIV, but there is a cure for discrimination, and it can be found in policies and programs like these."

The term homophobia refers to prejudice, stigma, and discrimination against people who have sex with others of their same sex. Transphobia is prejudice against transsexuals, transvestites, and transgender individuals. Both can exacerbate the suffering of people with HIV/AIDS and contribute to the spread of the epidemic. Discrimination makes it more difficult for people with HIV to get or keep a job, be admitted to clubs, schools, or religious institutions, and avoid prosecution or jail. It can also reduce the motivation to practice safer sex and discourage people from getting tested or seeking treatment and counseling.

Among the recent initiatives and policy changes that address these problems are:

  • The City of Buenos Aires passed a resolution in 2007 requiring healthcare providers and other employees of city health clinics to refer to transsexuals, transvestites, and transgender people according to their self-assigned gender and name.
  • Nicaragua's National Assembly in 2007 repealed Article 204 of the Penal Code, which outlawed sexual relations between people of the same sex.
  • Peru's Ministry of Health launched a communication campaign in 2007 aimed at reducing discrimination against sexual minorities (see poster above).
  • Colombia has launched a new communication strategy aimed at reducing barriers to access to HIV prevention and treatment services for members of sexual minorities.
  • Brazil has launched a new National Plan of Action against the HIV Epidemic among Homosexuals and Transsexuals, to improve sexual minorities' access to health and education. It will be implemented by special teams in each of Brazil's 27 states.
  • Costa Rican President ÓscarArias in March issued an executive decree designating May 17 as National Day against Homophobia. The decree calls on public institutions to promote actions aimed at eradicating stigma and discrimination against sexual minorities.
  • Mexico's Ministry of Health is developing a guide to raise awareness among health providers and government officials of the importance of nondiscrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, and sexual orientation. It will be distributed before the 17th International AIDS Conference, scheduled for Mexico City in August.

May 17, International Day against Homophobia, marks the anniversary of the 1990 revision of the International Classification of Diseases, which stated that sexual orientation should not be considered a disorder.

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