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India: Health minister's remarks a 'setback' for gay rights

Authorities in India must ensure that the rights of gay men are protected, said Amnesty International today, after the country’s Health Minister described homosexuality as a “disease”.

Addressing a conference about HIV/AIDS on Monday, Ghulum Nabo Azad said sex between two men is “completely unnatural and shouldn’t happen”.

Amnesty International’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Researcher Emily Gray said:

“These outrageous remarks linking consensual sexual activity to a disease simply encourage discrimination against men who have sex with men. The Health Minister must retract his comments, and the Indian Government must reaffirm its commitment to protect the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or consensual sexual behaviour.”

In a landmark judgement, India decriminalised homosexuality in 2009. The ruling overturned a 19th century British colonial law which bans engagement in consensual sex with an individual of the same sex.

Emily Gray added:

"India has come a long way in the past decade in protecting its vulnerable populations, including its LGBTI populations.  But they are engaging in double standards here: On the one hand, they have decriminalised homosexuality and taken a significant step toward ensuring that people in India can express their sexual orientation. On the other hand, its chief public health officer is pathologising homosexuality. This is a severe setback for sexual rights.

“It would be a great shame if India’s recent progress on protecting the rights of sexual minorities was undermined by government induced hostility towards LGBTI people.”

The World Health Organisation now recognises that protecting the rights of men who have sex with men is essential to ensuring safe sex practices and to help stem the spread of HIV.  Public stigmatisation of men who have sex with men has been shown to lead to fewer men seeking testing or treatment for HIV/AIDS.

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