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Christians must oppose all discrimination: Bishop Singh.

(Pastoral letter issued by Bishop Benedict Singh, Bishop of Georgetown, Guyana, on Jan 4, 2001, and reprinted in The Catholic Standard, a publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Georgetown Guyana, on Jul 9, 2010; editor Colin Smith.)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

The Constitution of Guyana was amended by parliament on 4th January. One section of the amended Constitution of Guyana prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status. Some Christians are vigorously opposing this element in the amended Constitution on the grounds that it is an “official endorsement and national approval of sexual perversion”.

When dealing with questions that generate strong emotions, we need to be careful and precise with our choice of language. First, we must note that what is at issue here is not discrimination against homosexuality but discrimination against PERSONS who are homosexuals. We need to remind ourselves that as Christians we are called to oppose every kind of discrimination against persons. We are called to reach out to all minorities and especially to those who find themselves in a minority they did not choose…..

Most of us, whether we find ourselves sexually attracted to the opposite sex or our own sex, did not choose one or the other: we simply discovered that is how we are. Homosexual persons are sexually attracted solely to their own gender. There is strong evidence that their orientation is fixed early in life (in many cases before birth), and it is totally outside of their control. Experience has taught us that no therapy or counseling can change it….

As Christians, we are called by the Lord to love our neighbour. They are our brothers and sisters, children with us of the one Father. We do not show them that we regard them as brothers and sisters if we do nothing to remove the discrimination which they undoubtedly suffer.

In society at large – and in our church – there are homosexual men and lesbian women who lead useful and virtuous lives. Many of them show an active concern for justice and for the plight of the needy which is an example to all of us. In the face of the discrimination they encounter, some of them can be described as truly heroic.

Some allege that to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is to “open the flood-gates “to all kinds of “corrupt and ungodly sexual practices”. Undoubtedly, if this amendment stands as it is and its effects are worked out, we Christians will have to define and proclaim our beliefs and moral standards with regard to sexuality and we will not fear to do so.

We do believe that God himself is the author of marriage in which a man and a woman “are no longer two but one”. We believe that that act of sexual intercourse is the highest expression of that unity. So we hold that the intimate sexual act may only be exercised between a man and a woman joined in the unbreakable union of marriage. Further, we believe that all Christians are called to actively promote the values of marriage and the
family among people of every race and religion and sexual orientation.
But our support for marriage and the family is not helped by discrimination against any person. It is not sufficient to merely refrain from active discrimination. We have to show others that we love and respect them as
persons. For these reasons, Christians should not oppose the wording of this amendment.

Finally, we should not allow ourselves to react to the attempts of others to bring more justice to our society with fear or irrational emotion. The Spirit of God is with us and he will enable us calmly and serenely to proclaim our faith and that justice which is an integral part of that faith.

Bishop Benedict Singh

July 13, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, Elderly LGBT, Guyana, Health, HIV, HIV Status, Immigrant rights, Jamaica, LGBT community, LGBT Immigrant rights, LGBT Rights, LGBT Seniors, Male Health, Mental Health, Politics, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

We should not discriminate against Homosexuals

By Mike James

(Note: this article was extracted from The Catholic Standard, Jul 9, 2010, editor Colin Smith, published by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Georgetown, Guyana.)

A very interesting and often heated debate has developed in Guyana over the past two weeks on the issue of the rights of homosexuals following an impassioned critique by some members of the Inter Religious Organization
of a current film festival sponsored by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) at the Side Walk Cafe in Georgetown and responses by other members of the IRO and members of the wider Guyanese public.
The debate revives the equally contentious issues surrounding the 4 January 2001 Constitutional Amendment approved in Parliament prohibiting discrimination against persons based on their race, age, sex, marital status, religion or sexual orientation.

Following strong lobbying led by some sectors of the religious community that the law would limit the rights of religious groups to discriminate against homosexuals, the President of Guyana declined to sign the amendment into law, and subsequently approved a revised constitutional amendment without sexual orientation being listed as one of the grounds on which discrimination is prohibited in Guyana.

It is notable at the time significant religious bodies, including the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches and other civil society groups publicly registered solid and dispassionate arguments for retaining the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds sexual orientation. It is also notable that the President bowed to the pressure of very vocal and agitated groups claiming the right to vilify and discriminate against homosexuals despite the fact that he himself had been subject a few short years previously to a sustained, disgraceful, uncharitable, obscene and totally unjustified public campaign of insults, mockery and contempt surrounding supposed allegations of his own sexual orientation.

For a good understanding of a Catholic perspective on the current controversy on homosexual rights in Guyana, the publication of the following excerpts from the excellent Pastoral Letter published by Bishop
Benedict Singh on the issue may be helpful. His concerns, ignored by the President and Parliament at the time, remain as valid today as they were then.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, Elderly LGBT, Guyana, Health, HIV, HIV Status, Immigrant rights, LGBT community, LGBT Immigrant rights, LGBT Rights, LGBT Seniors, Male Health, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. President announces national HIV/AIDS strategy

By Antoine Craigwell

(Tuesday, July 13, 2010) – Finally, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) as a way of addressing the rising numbers of people in the U.S. who are HIV positive and living with AIDS.

President Obama meets with Jeffery Crowley, ONAP director.

Announcing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, coordinated by the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), the president said in a letter, “Thirty years ago, the first cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) garnered the world’s attention. Since then, over 575,000 Americans have lost their lives to AIDS and more than 56,000 people in the United States become infected with HIV each year. Currently, there are more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV. Moreover, almost half of all Americans know someone living with HIV.”

The country is at a crossroads with HIV as a domestic epidemic demanding a renewed commitment, increased public attention, and leadership, the president said. He said he challenged the Office of National AIDS Policy at the start of his administration to develop a national strategy with three goals: reducing the number of people who become infected with HIV; increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV; and, reducing HIV-related health disparities.

“To accomplish these goals, we must undertake a more coordinated national response to the epidemic. The Federal government can’t do this alone, nor should it. Success will require the commitment of governments at all levels, businesses, faith communities, philanthropy, the scientific and medical communities, educational institutions, people living with HIV, and others,” Obama said.

ONAP in its vision statement said: “The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.”

But leaders at the forefront in the fight against AIDS, especially in the Black community, suggest that the Strategy does not go far enough.

Phill Wilson, president and CEO. Black AIDS InstituteIn a press release, Phill Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Black AIDS Institute, on his organization’s Website  said that the National AIDS Strategy represents a new day in the country’s nearly three-decade-long struggle against AIDS.

“For the first time, we finally have a national plan in place to guide our fight against the epidemic and to hold decision-makers accountable for results,” said Wilson.

Wilson pointed to the hypocrisy in the U.S.  AIDS policy toward other countries, which imposed as a condition to  receive AIDS assistance that they were required to have a national AIDS strategy, but America never had one.

“With no plan in place to mandate coordination between different government agencies or to ensure accountability, it is hardly surprising that we have an HIV/AIDS epidemic 40% worse than previously believed, with 1 in 5 Americans infected with HIV don’t know they have the disease, half or more of people diagnosed with HIV are not receiving regular medical care, and HIV rates in some communities worst than those found in some of the poorest countries on the planet,” Wilson said.

The new strategy provides a promising opportunity for Americans to get real about the shortcomings in its national response to the epidemic, he said. At a time when AIDS deaths are largely preventable, the government has provided only minimal leadership in making knowledge of HIV serostatus an essential social norm in the most heavily affected communities. And even though the face of AIDS in America is typically Black or brown, most people with HIV are forced to seek medical care from health providers who neither look like them nor understand the challenges they face. The new strategy provides a blueprint for changing some of these realities, and it is an opportunity we must energetically grasp, Wilson said in the release.

But, he said that while he praises the president for placing Black America front and center in his national HIV/AIDS strategy, AIDS in America today is a Black disease, which accounts for about 13% of the national population, with Black people making up half of all new HIV diagnoses. The AIDS death rate among Black males is eight times higher than for white males, while Black women are 19 times as likely to die as whites, he said.

Pointing to the limitations of the AIDS Stratefy, Wilson said, “If the new AIDS strategy is to succeed, it has to work for Black people. In reporting results, the Obama administration needs specifically to report outcomes for Black people. Only if prevention and treatment programs work for Black America will we win our national fight against AIDS. Unfortunately, the new strategy does not sufficiently address the issue of resources. Already, we are seeing many AIDS drug assistance programs impose caps or waiting lists for life-saving drugs. There are over 3000 people on ADAP waiting lists. This month, the President authorized a one-time funding increase for ADAP of $25 million, but this amount, while welcome, represents only about 7% of amounts needed this year alone to ensure the program’s continued solvency.

“At a time when we are largely losing the fight to prevent new infections, prevention programs currently account for only 3% of federal AIDS spending. To put available prevention weapons to effective use, experts estimate that annual prevention spending needs to increase from $750 million to $1.3 billion for at least each of the next five years. This new strategy offers a sound, evidence-based approach to better results, but it will be worth little more than the paper it is written on if we don’t follow through with essential resources.

“In difficult economic times, it is often necessary to make painful choices. As a country, though, we need to transition from AIDS “spending” to AIDS “investments.” By investing in cost-effective AIDS programs, we are investing in America’s families and helping young people remain productive contributors to society for future decades.”

Paul Kawata, executive director of the Washington-DC based National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), in a statement said, “This is a historic time on many fronts. On the one hand, President Obama has made history today by being the first President ever to create a truly national strategy to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The ideas contained in this plan are aggressive and would certainly go a long way toward combating what continues to be one of our nation’s most troubling public health emergencies.”

Kawata said he purposefully used the word ‘plan’ to demonstrate that without the funds to carry out the president’s ambitious agenda, it significantly short of a strategy.

“The blueprint is most certainly there,” he said. “But now our collective attention must shift to resources.”

He said that while the president can rightly lay claim to a historic and much-needed moment in the HIV/AIDS movement, history continues to be made each day as more people living with HIV/AIDS continue to join the ranks of those waiting to receive life-saving medicines. Tragically, this has become an issue of resources as well—an issue that has become an all-too familiar refrain in the battle against this disease, he added.

“We must look at this plan as a solid first step in achieving our ultimate goal: eradicating HIV/AIDS. Now the conversation must turn to implementation—and how we fund such an audacious goal. To ignore the difficult topic of HIV/AIDS funding would be tantamount to placing the president’s strategy in a shredder,” said Kawata.

But, Jeffery Crowley, ONAP director, in a statement posted on the ONAP Website said, “Today, Secretary Sebelius also announced that $30 million of the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention Fund will be dedicated to the implementation of the NHAS. This funding will support the development of combination prevention interventions. It will also support improved surveillance, expanded, and targeted testing, and other activities.”

Among the many items the Strategy calls for is a three-step process of reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities, which include reducing HIV-related mortality in communities at high risk for HIV infection, adopting community-level approach to reduce HIV infection in high-risk communities, and reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

The Strategy said that regarding the third step of this process, in the earliest days of the HIV epidemic, fear, ignorance, and denial led to harsh, ugly treatment of people living with the disease, and some Americans even called for forced quarantine of all people living with HIV. Although such extreme measures never occurred, the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV was often extremely high. Even today, some people living with HIV still face discrimina­tion in many areas of life including employment, housing, provision of health care services, and access to public accommodations. This undermines efforts to encourage all people to learn their HIV status, and it makes it harder for people to disclose their HIV status to their medical providers, their sex partners, and even clergy, and others from whom they may seek understanding and support.

Time and again, an essential element of what has caused social attitudes to change has been when the public sees and interacts with people who are openly living with HIV. For decades, community organizations have operated speaker’s bureaus where people with HIV go into schools, businesses, and churches to talk about living with HIV. In the 1990s, both major political parties had memorable keynote speakers at their presidential nominating conventions that were living with HIV.

With Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and other civil rights laws commemorating their 20th anniversary this year, these laws have proven to be vital for the protection of people with disabilities including HIV. The Strategy calls for a greater commitment to civil rights enforcement and that to be free of discrimination based on HIV status is both a human and a civil right, “We know that many people feel shame and embarrassment when they learn their HIV status. And, there is too much social stigma that seeks to assign blame to people who acquire HIV. Encouraging more individuals to disclose their HIV status directly lessens the stigma associated with HIV. As we promote disclosure, however, we must also ensure that we are protecting people who are openly living with HIV.”

Working to end the stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV is a critical compo­nent of curtailing the epidemic, said the Strategy document. People at high risk for HIV cannot be expected to, nor will they seek testing or treatment services if they fear that it would result in adverse consequences of discrimination. HIV stigma has been shown to be a barrier to HIV testing and people living with HIV who experience more stigma have poorer physical and mental health and are more likely to miss doses of their medication. An important step is to ensure that laws and policies support current understanding of best public health practices for preventing and treating HIV.

“While we understand the intent behind such laws, they may not have the desired effect and they may make people less willing to disclose their status by making people feel at even greater risk of discrimination. In some cases, it may be appropriate for legislators to reconsider whether existing laws continue to further the public interest and public health. In many instances, the continued existence and enforcement of these types of laws run counter to scientific evidence about routes of HIV transmission and may undermine the public health goals of promoting HIV screening and treatment,” the Strategy document said.

To reduce stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV, the Strategy document recommends that communities be engaged to affirm support for people living with HIV: Faith communities, businesses, schools, community-based organizations, social gathering sites, and all types of media outlets should take responsibility for affirming nonjudgmental support for people living with HIV and high-risk communities. The promotion of public leadership of people living with HIV: Governments and other institutions (including HIV prevention community planning groups and Ryan White planning councils and consortia) should work with people with AIDS coalitions, HIV services organizations, and other institutions to actively promote public leadership by people living with HIV. The promotion of public health approaches to HIV prevention and care: State legislatures should consider reviewing HIV-specific criminal statutes to ensure that they are consistent with cur­rent knowledge of HIV transmission and support public health approaches to preventing and treating HIV. And, strengthening of enforcement of civil rights laws: The Department of Justice and federal agen­cies must enhance cooperation to facilitate enforcement of federal antidiscrimination laws.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, death, depression, Economy, Elderly LGBT, Health, HIV, HIV Status, LGBT community, LGBT Immigrant rights, LGBT Rights, LGBT Seniors, Male Health, Mental Health, mental illness, Obama, Politics, Public Health | Leave a comment