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EDGE Exclusive: Clinton Sees HIV Reduction When Anti-Gay Laws Repealed

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Tuesday Nov 8, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, that repealing anti-gay laws is among the ways to curb the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Clinton used her NIH speech to announce that the White House has devoted an additional $60 million to fight the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. She also unveiled comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as the State Department's new special envoy for global AIDS awareness.

"I want the American people to understand the irreplaceable role that the United States has played in the fight against AIDS," said Clinton, whose audience included NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci; Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Thomas Frieden and Jeffrey Crowley, director of the White House's Office on National AIDS Policy. "It is their tax dollars, our tax dollars that have made this possible and we need to keep this going."

Clinton's remarks came on the eve of the annual U.S. Conference on AIDS that will take place in Chicago from Nov. 10-13 and the annual World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. The 2012 International AIDS Conference that will take place in Washington, D.C., in July will mark the first time since 1993 that the United States will host this biennial gathering-President Barack Obama in 2009 completed the process of overturning the ban on immigrants and travelers with HIV/AIDS from entering the country that former President George W. Bush began.

"Secretary Clinton gave a very forward looking speech today outlining a new vision for creating an AIDS-free generation that is predicated on sustaining critical leadership from the United States government to responding to the global pandemic," Crowley told EDGE, noting her remarks are consistent with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy that Obama released in July 2010. "From our own experience in the United States, we know that we need to protect the civil and human rights of all people, including gay and bisexual men, in order to foster an environment where they can take steps to lower their risks of becoming infected with HIV, come in for treatment to protect their own health, and to take steps to avoid transmitting HIV to others."

Improved access to antiretroviral therapy, care and support for people with HIV/AIDS and safer-sex practices have contributed to a significant decline in new infection rates in many parts of the world over the last decade. Statistics from the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS show that new infection rates in most sub-Saharan African countries decreased more than 25 percent from 2000 to 2009. The number of adults and children who were newly diagnosed with HIV in the region dropped from 2.2 million in 2001 to 1.8 million from 2009, while AIDS-related deaths among adults and children fell from 1.4 million to 1.3 million during the same period. The number of adults and children living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 20.3 million in 2001 to 22.5 million to 2009.

A 2002 World Health Organization report estimated that nearly 75 percent of those with HIV/AIDS in the world lived in sub-Saharan Africa. UNAIDS data shows this figure fell to 68 percent in 2009.

"We still have a hard, long road ahead of us," said Clinton. "We have the change to give countless lives and futures to millions of people who are alive today but equally if not profoundly importantly to an entire generation who is not yet born."

Should Countries with Anti-Gay Laws Receive Foreign Aid to Fight AIDS?
Uganda has received $285 million from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief so far this year to expand efforts to combat the epidemic. The East African country received more than $1.2 billion in PEPFAR grants from 2004 to 2009.

The State Department's 2010 Human Rights Report specifically cited Uganda as among the countries in which LGBT people continue to suffer discrimination, violence and even death. Gay activist David Kato was murdered in his Kampala home on Jan. 26. Ugandan Parliamentarians continue to push for the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and other groups have also singled out Uganda-along with Cameroon, Senegal and other sub-Saharan African countries-for anti-LGBT persecution. British Prime Minister David Cameron late last month threatened to cut foreign aid to Commonwealth countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality.

The State Department did not immediately return EDGE's request for comment.

HIV/AIDS service providers, however, welcomed Clinton's remarks.

"Protecting people is a very, very strong intervention and the elimination of laws that promote homophobia are an absolutely essential function in getting rid of new cases of HIV," said Janet Weinberg, chief operating officer of Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York, shortly after Clinton delivered her speech.

Daniel C. Montoya, deputy executive director of the National Minority AIDS Coalition, described the elimination of laws that criminalize homosexuality as a "moral imperative" that is "vital to the international response to HIV/AIDS."

"Criminalizing homosexuality makes it dangerous for individuals to educate themselves, by putting them at risk each time they disclose their sexuality," he said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


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