World AIDS Day: Getting to Zero

Since 1988, December 1st has been World AIDS Day. This is a day to raise awareness about HIV, to stand in solidarity with those living with HIV, to remember loved ones we have lost to HIV, and to work together to end HIV around the world. The international theme for World AIDS Day 2015 is “Getting to Zero” which means working toward the dream of an AIDS-free generation.

Stigma and discrimination must be eliminated in the work to reduce infections, to improve access to healthcare and to open paths for advocacy. Populations at risk to HIV include LGBT persons, men who have sex with men, women living in poverty and sex workers.

2.79 billion people live in countries that criminalize homosexuality. Criminalization of one’s personhood, sexuality or gender expression makes one more vulnerable to HIV infection and less likely to receive adequate, even life-saving healthcare.

Government-sponsored homophobia and transphobia through anti-LGBT laws is a leading factor in fostering stigma and fueling prejudice, discrimination and violence against sexual minorities. Conservative politics and religion are also sources of stigma and persecution of LGBT persons and those living with HIV. We know this to be the case in the United States as evidenced in the HIV epidemic in the South. “The South’s struggle with HIV is a public health emergency,” according to Dr. Patrick Sullivan, Professor of Epidemiology at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Around the world, conservative political and religious ideology creates a climate of fear, stigmatization and persecution of LGBT persons and their families. This climate hinders public health initiatives and places LGBT persons in harm’s way with regard to HIV, joblessness and poverty.

One would rightly expect that faith should be a source of compassion and help, not prejudice and harm. And, certainly there are many faith-based organizations providing HIV education and healthcare. It is our hope and prayer that one day, every person of faith and every faith-based organization will recognize the human dignity and sacred worth of LGBT persons and therefore work to end stigma and discrimination in civil society. This is the path to “getting to zero.” Together we will create an AIDS-free generation.

Banner Photo: An AIDS activist lights a group of candles placed in the shape of a red AIDS awareness ribbon during an event marking World AIDS Day in Manila, the capital fo the Philippines. Ted Aljibe/AFP