The most reliable weapon in the arsenal of anti-gay Christian activists such as Dr Wayne West and Shirley Richards is the argument that homosexuality must not be tolerated because gay men are disease vectors whose sex lives put all Jamaicans at risk. Their use of data and their motive to support this argument are notoriously shoddy.
The Jamaican HIV epidemic is largely a heterosexual epidemic. Six of every 10 new infections will occur among heterosexuals with low risk perception, even though five of these have high-risk practices, including multiple partners and inconsistent or no condom use.
According to the national 2012 Knowledge, Attitudes, Practices and Behaviour survey, 60 per cent of persons who never use condoms, or who use them infrequently (47 per cent of sexual active adults), perceive little or no chance of contracting HIV. Evidently, many Jamaicans, regardless of sexual orientation, have a grossly inaccurate perception of their risk level.
Activism by anti-gay Christians shrouds the available data in homophobic rhetoric and gives an illusory sense of security to those who still believe HIV is only a serious issue for gay and bisexual men and the women who have sex with them.
The Ministry of Health conducted two major studies to assess the prevalence of HIV among gay and bisexual men. In both studies, the prevalence rate hovered just above 32 per cent. While these figures are alarming and noteworthy, the results of these two surveys cannot be generalised because they both employed convenience sampling.
Most of the men in these surveys were poor, unemployed and socially vulnerable. Not surprisingly, transactional and commercial sex was far more common in these samples than is expected in a random sample of gay and bisexual men – which would include men who are not sexually active. HIV prevalence in this population is, in part, indicative of their social context, which informs their perceptions of risk and their ability to negotiate the use of, and to access, condoms and lubricants.
Anti-gay Christian activists should be held accountable for wilful intellectual dishonesty when they use the 32 per cent prevalence rate loosely to advance their fearmongering.
In any case, the likelihood that gay men will contract HIV does not illustrate the pathology of homosexuality; it highlights the problem with unprotected sex compounded by biology since the rectum provides the opportunistic HIV virus with the most efficient pathway into the body.
Richards and West often say the anus and the rectum were never ‘designed’ for sex, but this claim is as subjective as it is irrelevant. Gay men do not have a monopoly on any sexual practice, and the efficiency of HIV transmission through unprotected anal sex is a concern for both heterosexuals and gay men.
HIV does not discriminate by sexuality; it is solely concerned with achieving access to our bodies through UNPROTECTED (vaginal or anal) sex with an infected person. By using a condom with lubrication during sex, the risk of transmission plummets.
In addition, when those living with HIV have an undetectable viral load, the risk of transmission is negligible. In other words, improving HIV-testing mechanisms and access to treatment is an effective way to reduce transmission of HIV, whereas criminalisation creates barriers to access and treatment.
I would argue that neither West nor Richards cares about the public health impact of HIV. Frankly, they seem more interested in entrenching their bigotry than responding effectively to the HIV epidemic.
Heterosexual and homosexual Jamaicans living with HIV internalise and negotiate pervasive stigma as they seek treatment and support from their families and friends. Anti-gay Christian activists actively sustain this stigma with their relentless moralising and insidious use of data to rationalise their obsession with policing gay men’s bodies.
Even if scientists find a vaccine for HIV tomorrow, the Church will still be thundering for enforcement of the archaic and unconstitutional buggery law on some trumped-up claim or another.
We cannot continue burying our heads in the sand while kowtowing to Dr Wayne West, Shirley Richards and their ilk who are obstructing the efforts of the hard-working Jamaicans tasked with reducing the incidence of HIV. It is time we say to them, “Enough!”