finger pointing

Can We Blame Anti-Gay Religion for Our Higher HIV Rates?

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Don’t think we’re letting men who have bareback sex off the hook here — they’re a big part of the problem. But why do communities actively targeted by religious conservatives, who ensure a good chance at an absolutely fucked up childhoods for families who believe the gospel, wind up with higher HIV rates?

We’re talking about gay men, whose HIV-positive rates are higher than the straight community in the Western world. And then there are gay (or “same-gender loving”) black men, whose rates are disproportionately higher than gays as a whole. Might all this have something to do with the fearmongering going on in the church about the homosexual lifestyle?

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It’s question former White House science adviser and current San Francisco AIDS Foundation executive Dr. Judith Auerbach is trying to answer. On a visit to this week’s 2009 Australasian Sexual Health and HIV conference, she told attendees: “HIV infection rates among gay men have increased steadily since the 1990s, while they’ve declined among most other population groups. The epidemic is still overwhelmingly among gay men [and linked to higher rates of depression and alcohol and substance abuse]. It’s all connected to being gay in a homo-negative culture. The background of gay men’s lives can have an ultimately very complicated pathway to acquisition and transmission of HIV. Everything from child sexual abuse, to being bullied in school, to other ways you could define homo-negativity, the ways dominant culture is negative to homosexuality and is played out by bullies, has a relationship to adult behaviours that lead to HIV risk.”

It’s an interesting theory. By cultivating an anti-gay culture, religious types foster a feedback loop that says “gay is bad.” This helps us hate ourselves, which is an easy road map to depression and drug abuse, both of which themselves can lead the way to the type of sex lifestyle that puts you at risk for contracting HIV. (We know, we’re making pretty hefty leaps in just a few words here, but there’s more than anecdotal evidence showing how this works.)

Does this let gay men off the hook for getting high on crystal and letting a half dozen men breed them? Of course not. We’re all adults, and responsible for our own actions. But taken in the aggregate, and especially when teamed with HIV data among black gays — and measured against vehement anti-gay messaging from black churches — it’s easy to see a pattern emerge.

There are a million reasons to dump on religious conservatives for their treatment of gay Americans. From their active role in fighting marriage equality to their continued insistence that we can be cured of our gayness. And while it’s ridiculous to think all of our HIV problems are the fault of the church, certainly manipulating Jesus’ teachings into an anti-gay megaphone isn’t helping matters.

So, can we blame the Roman Catholics for our HIV epidemic? Maybe in part, but even partial responsibility only gets us so far. But no, their anti-gay teachings, abstinence only education, and role in tearing families apart (when they should be building them) certainly violates whatever oath they made with their creator to love thy neighbor.