Article Published: Sunday, December 13th, 2009
By DURRANT PATE
Senior Staff Reporter
Jamaica’s stride in reducing the incidence of HIV/AIDS is being threatened by sexual promiscuity of homsexuals living with the infection. Some such persons are reported to be involved in relationships with unsuspecting heterosexuals.
Health officials have warned about the clear and present danger facing the country, arguing that if the situation is not checked much of the gains made over the years in reducing HIV/AIDS would come to nothing.
The HIV prevalence rate in the gay community is a worrying 32 per cent compared with the national average of 1.8 per cent.
Health authorities are fearful that the higher HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, although mostly concentrated in the gay community, could become more generalized with the growing promiscuity among gays, who are infected with the virus and have strong sexual links with the general population.
The homosexual category, Men who have Sex with Men, medically referred to as MSM, constituted the most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection but in spite of this fact, they are the most promiscuous.
On the flip side, commercial sex worker, which is another category of high-risk group, has shown a greater level of responsibility in greater condom use, resulting in a decline in the infection rate to eight percent.
The national Knowledge, Attitudes, Practices and Behaviour survey commissioned last year revealed that high-risk behaviours such as multiple partners, inconsistent condom use and early sexual debut is fuelling the HIV/AIDS infection rate.
While heeding the warning, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) is seeking to set the records straight regarding the increasing HIV/AIDS infection in the homosexual community and the growing promiscuity among gay men, who are infected.
JFLAG programmes manager, Jason McFarlane, argued that the rate of the epidemic in the MSM community might be attributed to several factors, key to which are homophobia and social discrimination.
He stated that homophobia has negative and destructive consequences on sexual behaviour with many men, who have sex with men being forced to live double lives, hiding both their sexual orientation as well as their HIV status.
McFarlane pointed to social factors, which he added cause many gay men to end up dropping out of school before completing secondary education ending up unemployed and leading to homelessness and exposure to abuse.
All these social factors, he articulated, increase the level of risky behaviour in the gay community.
The J-FLAG programmes manager said the impact of these factors, coupled with the general stigma in society that treats a gay person as less than human, impacts greatly on how homosexuals conduct themselves and in particular, when negotiating safer sex.
“In fact, in this context the devaluing of individuals by society has led to persons not placing sufficient value on their own lives so that taking risk becomes a ‘norm’ since there is the expectation that there is not much else to live for,” McFarlane told the Sunday Herald.
In a society where sex between men is punishable by law, McFarlane contended, “gay men often are simply happy to be in a sexual relationship and as such issues of condom negotiation rarely are discussed or raised.”
According to McFarlane, “because of the societal pressures, many of the men who feel forced to have female partners, feel protected in the ‘sexual space’ with their male partners, are not empowered to feel strongly about protecting themselves in either context.”
The J-FLAG official posited that this forces persons to assume heterosexual behaviour when they truly have homosexual desires, stressing that the duality that people live in manifests itself in a whole range of risky behaviour.
This is the second of a three-part series looking at HIV/AIDS and the gay community.