May 31, 2011

30th Anniversary of the First HIV/AIDS Arrives With No Cure

Thirty years ago this June, the Centers for Disease Control published reports of a few cases of a rare type of pneumonia among gay men.
Their condition soon had a name: AIDS.
Today, more than 33 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
HIV was a virus first thought to be limited to the gay population, a misperception that shattered when celebrities like Magic Johnson announced they too were HIV positive.
The former basketball star is living evidence that in many cases HIV should no longer be considered a death sentence if it's caught early.
It's now a treatable disease thanks to huge advancements in drugs called anti-retrovirals.
Dr. Myron Cohen of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has led AIDS research and worked with patients since the first HIV cases came to light 30 years ago.
He and a team of researchers recently found that treating HIV-infected men and women with anti-retroviral drugs soon after diagnosis can reduce the likelihood they'll pass the virus to uninfected sexual partners by 96 percent.
"It took us almost 20 years for us to develop all of the tools we needed and prove that it worked... so these things take a lot of time and a lot of tenacity," he said.
Despite advances and awareness AIDS remains a stigmatized disease and disproportionately affects the African-American community.
"In many communities, people you know still struggle with how to not just deal with HIV and AIDS but how to tell others about their HIV status," noted the National Minority AIDS Council's Daniel C. Montoya.
Research into an AIDS vaccine has had setbacks, with some experiments offering only small benefits and some doing more harm than good, but Cohen says a vaccine is an achievable goal.
"I think the chance of making a vaccine that offers a substantial protection if not 100% protection is very strong," he said.
The hope for the next 30 years of AIDS research: a cure.
A cure for AIDS would enable patients to go off of anti-retroviral therapy, an expensive and life-long commitment.
(Copyright © 2011 NBC Universal, All Rights Reserved)

In Australia Complaint about gay safe sex ads 'homophobic'

By Andree Withey
There has been an angry reaction to the removal of a safe sex advertisements in Brisbane featuring two gay men hugging.
Paul Martin from the Queensland Association of Healthy Communities says there has been dozens of complaints about the condom ads at bus shelters.
He says the reaction smacks of homophobia.
"I've got the complaint sent to the Advertising Standards Bureau in front of me and it reads, I quote "to promote this lifestyle to our youth is not in the interests of healthy communities - the only place this message should be seen would be to practising homosexuals, not to impressionable youth in our general public spaces'," he said.
"To me, that's pretty clearly homophobic."

The ad has been removed from bus shelters around Brisbane.
The ad has been removed from bus shelters around Brisbane. (AAP: Qld Association for Healthy Communities)

Gallup poll: Americans believe 25% of their population are gay or lesbian

The findings of a Gallup poll conducted in the USA last month have revealed that Americans estimate 25 per cent of their fellow countrymen and women are gay or lesbian.
According to Gallup’s website, on average, adult Americans estimate that 25% of the population of the USA are gay or lesbian, and more specifically, over half of those polled (52 per cent) estimate that at least one in five Americans are gay or lesbian.
The highest estimates were said to be given by those on lower incomes and with less education. Conversely, those with higher incomes and more education gave lower estimates. Younger Americans, aged 18-29, also gave a higher average estimate than older Americans. Women gave a far higher average estimate than men.
The politically and socially liberal, along with Democrats, were also more likely to give higher estimates than those at the other end of the political spectrum.
However, there is little or no concrete data about the exact proportion of the US population that is actually gay or lesbian, not least because of the complexities surrounding sexual identity and the fact that some gay and lesbian people do not identify themselves with the accepted labels.
This latest collective estimate is likely to have been driven more by perceptions of and exposure to gay people rather than by scientific measurement or reality.
An earlier Gallup poll previously found that though a majority of Americans personally knew someone gay or lesbian, they did not reveal how many gay people they knew, or whether the amount of gay people they knew had increased as society became more tolerant.

Russian Orthodox Church Confuses Ending Persecution Of Christians With Making Everyone One

-by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
How does one define persecution? This is one of the big problems facing Christianity and the entire world right now. How does one define what it means to be a persecuted minority. Is a ban on church services discrimination and persecution? That is an obvious case of persecution, in fact. Is the demand that crucifixes not be displayed in public schools persecution? To a rational person who wants freedom and respect for all religions, the answer to that is no. It is not persecution because displaying a Christian symbol all on its own is considered disrespectful of other religions. To many Christians, anything that bars them from crowding out other religions or forcing their moral views into the law is a form of persecution.
A recent article discussed the Russian Orthodox Church’s concern about the growing number of persecution cases against Christians across the globe, and called upon the world community to defend the rights of Christians. The article stated:
This was the main topic discussed at the meeting of the Russian Orthodox Church’s supreme body, the Holy Synod, which took place on May 30th in St. Petersburg. The meeting was chaired by the head of the Russian Church Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill.
In an interview with the Voice of Russia, a spokesman for the Russian Patriarch’s office Vladimir Legoyda said:
“The Synod listened to a report by the Chairman of the Church’s Department for Public Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. The metropolitan was very concerned with the growing anti-Christian sentiments in the world. The meeting adopted a resolution which said that the Russian Orthodox Church has always condemned any manifestations of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other religious hatred.”
Indeed, recently, there ware several Christian churches that were set on fire in Giza, Egypt and several Coptic Christians were murdered. Vladimir Legoydoa stated “Unfortunately, the number of similar incidents is growing. I think this is hardly incidental. One can speak of a growing trend for anti-Christian moods in several countries.”
In countries where being a Christian can mean death or the inability to worship, that is true persecution and discrimination. Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church took the definition of persecution too far. According to the article “even in some countries where Christianity is a traditional religion, Christians may face discrimination, sometimes under most absurd pretexts. One of the examples is the recent demand of the Italian government not to expose crucifixes and other Christian symbols in schools. And this happens in Italy, where 98% of the population position themselves as Christians!”
Within such nations where religious freedom is a given, the displays should be all or nothing. Simply put, either there should be displays honoring the diversity of religion or there should be no religious symbology at all. Too often, people want their religion and only their religion to be displayed officially, and that is the problem because it makes a lie out of any pretenses of religious freedom. It says that all religions are not equal.
In fact, it makes a lie out of what Mr. Legoyda said next:
“Russia can serve as an example of religious tolerance. In Russia and other countries which are under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, diverse denominations have been coexisting quite peacefully for many years. We are ready to share our experience of tolerance with all who want to build a free and just society.”
If the Moscow Patriarchate is going to insist that banning the hanging of crucifixes in schools is persecution of Christians, then they do not want religious toleration or religious plurality. There must be more than toleration, in fact. If there is no governmental acknowledgment of the equality of all religions, and a purging of religion from the books of law so as to not infringe upon any other religion’s rights and to acknowledge the equality under the law of all religions, then there is no freedom from or of religion.
This means that there must either be recognition of all religious holidays or no recognition at all. This means there must either be symbols from all religions in government buildings or none at all. This means that the use of religion to persecute lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people must stop right away and laws written to protect them and grant equal rights across the board.
Anything else is not equality of religion, but the toleration of a rhino for a tick bird.

Egyptian general admits & defends practice of 'virginity tests' on Tahir

Egyptian women protesting in Tahrir Square
Egyptian women protesting in Tahrir Square in February. Photograph: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images
Egyptian activists will hold an online protest on Wednesday to press the military leadership to investigate soldiers who abused pro-democracy demonstrators, including women who were detained and forced to take "virginity tests".
The interim authority, formed after Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February, has come in for increasing criticism from the youth movement for the slow pace of its reforms, and intolerance of dissent.
The abuse of the women, which was confirmed by a senior army official, has caused particular anger, and prompted a storm of protest on the internet.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces had previously denied claims by Amnesty International that 18 women detained in March were subjected to virginity checks and threatened with prostitution charges.
But an Egyptian general told an American television network on Monday that tests were in fact conducted, and defended the practice.
"The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," the general, who requested anonymity, told CNN. "These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found … molotov cocktails and [drugs]."
He said the tests were conducted so that the women would not be able to claim that they had been sexually abused while in custody.
"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," the general said. "None of them were [virgins]."
Amnesty condemned the general's comments and called for a full investigation.
"This general's implication that only virgins can be victims of rape is a long-discredited sexist attitude and legal absurdity," a statement said. "When determining a case of rape, it is irrelevant whether or not the victim is a virgin. The army must immediately instruct security forces and soldiers that such 'tests' are banned."
The women were detained on 9 March, nearly a month after the revolution that forced Mubarak from power, when soldiers cleared Tahrir Square after men in civilian clothes attacked protesters.
One of the female victims, Salwa Hosseini, 20, told Amnesty that she and the other women were forced to remove their clothes before being strip-searched by a female guard. Male soldiers looked into the room, and took pictures, she said.
The women were also beaten and given electric shocks, Amnesty reported.
The growing dissatisfaction with the interim government is increasingly clear. While the military council has pledged to organise elections this year and hand over to a civilian government, tens of thousands of people appeared in Tahrir Square last week to demand faster reforms.
Youth activists have said that additional, online protests are necessary because Egypt's mainstream media treads too softly around the military, a taboo carried over from Mubarak's reign.
The new rulers have shown themselves to be thin-skinned, with a military prosecutor summoning a prominent blogger and a television journalist after they criticised the army during a talkshow. Three other journalists were also called in for questioning on Tuesday. They were all released without charge.
In a statement, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information condemned the military council for "dispersing fear" among the media and the judiciary. The group said that three judges were also under investigation for appearing on talkshows where they criticised the use of military courts for civilian cases and called for judicial reform.

May 30, 2011

Gay sex became legal in India two years ago, but attitudes did not

For most gay men in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, the law change has made little obvious difference, but they do seem to be louder and prouder
Posted by Sylvia Rowley
MDG : Gay men in India
Indian gay rights supporters at the Queer Azadi march in Mumbai, August 2009. At least 2,000 people took part in the pride march, only weeks after the British colonial-era ban on sex between men was ended. Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images
The day the high court in Delhi ruled that being gay was no longer a crime was the day that Krishna Gurram Kouda finally came out to his family.
Despite having set up a state-wide network for gay men in Andhra Pradesh, the 39-year-old had never told his relatives about his sexuality. "I live with my parents," he explains as the fan above whirs in an ineffectual attempt to stave off the 40C Hyderabadi heat. "I have a good relationship with my brothers and their children." He looks at me. "I thought they would accept me," he pauses, "but I was a little afraid."
I first met Kouda in 2008 when I was reporting on how discrimination puts gay men at greater risk of HIV in Andhra Pradesh (which has one ofIndia's highest rates of the virus) for the Guardian's international development journalism competition. At that time, section 377 of the Indian penal code made gay sex illegal, and strong social stigma drove gay men underground. Now the law has changed, I wanted to know whether their lives had also altered course.
For Krishna, the answer is yes. On the day of decriminalisation – 2 July 2009 – Krishna went public, spending hours on local TV and radio, talking about gay issues and rebutting religious leaders. When he got home at 10 o'clock that night, his mother and brother congratulated him. "You speak about your community's problems so well," they said, recognising for the first time that they knew he was gay. Since then, Krishna and Avinash, his partner of seven years, have received joint invitations to family parties and an annual couples-only Puja [prayer].
But for most of the gay men I met, decriminalisation had made little obvious difference. Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, is 1,500km and a cultural leap away from middle-class activism in Delhi, where the case was won.
"There is no change," says Satish, an outreach worker at a drop-in centre for men who have sex with men in Secunderabad, Hyderabad's twin city. "Same harassment by police, same harassment by society, same harassment by goondas [thugs]."
"It's like this," another chips in. "Section 377" – he kisses his teeth and flicks his hand dismissively "only high level people who are going on websites and reading the paper know about that. Not the medium-class people, not the lower class."
Only a week earlier, a 30-year-old transgender sex worker nick-named Charmi was badly beaten by the police at a cruising point in Secunderabad. A distant legal change is not enough to stop rank-and-file officers beating gay and transgender people who they call "bad people" and robbers.
Nor is it enough to counter social and economic pressures facing poor men: "The really bad situation is facing the low-income people," says Krishna. "They depend on their family financially, emotionally. They can't say, 'I am gay, I don't want to marry.' They have nowhere to go."
HIV rates among gay men remain high. Although data collection is problematic, one study indicates that one-fifth of men who have sex with men in Andhra Pradesh were HIV positive in 2009/10, compared with one-sixth in 2007.
The legal change may have had limited direct impact, but life is by no means the same as it was three years ago. Krishna's organisation, Suraksha Society, reports that beatings, rapes and thefts by the police have reduced dramatically in the areas where it works.
This is because Suraksha members now make weekly visits to every police station in Hyderabad, and run monthly sex and sexuality workshops with the police.
"One day we asked – why are we blaming the police? How many times have we tried to explain our sexuality to them?" says Krishna. "When we told them about our struggles, most were very impressed. They said, really, we didn't know this kind of thing, we thought you were bad people only." The Suraksha men now have such a good rapport with the police that they distribute condoms to the cops and run HIV testing clinics for them at police stations.
Hyderabad also had its first gay pride march, a 3,000-strong rally in November 2009 called Melukolupu (awakening). The media is becoming more sensitive, and when one channel, TV9 Telugu, exposed local gay men on the dating site, there were protests and the channel was forced to apologise.
The legal change has brought no revolution in Hyderabad, and stubborn economic and social blocks stand in the way of greater freedom for many. But, in some ways, things are moving fast. Sitting in Krishna's office as the stiflingly hot afternoon draws to a close, phones ring and legal documents are swished back and forth, and I sense that the men of Suraksha have become louder and prouder.
"Earlier we talked 99% about condoms and HIV. But this is only one part of our lives, a small part," says Krishna. "We also need rights and acceptance, and that's what we are fighting for."

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