A gay civil society group on Wednesday scored the Catholic Church for implying that gay sex was to blame for the steep rise in HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) cases in the country.
Jonas Bagas, executive director of the TLF Share Foundation, rebuffed the statement of Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes that the incidence of HIV was high among men who have sex with men (MSM) partly because they do not follow the Church’s strictures against same-sex intercourse.
Reyes is chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.
“Bishop Gabriel Reyes of CBCP is incorrect. It is not gay sex that spreads HIV, it is unprotected sex,” Bagas said in a statement.
“The gay, bisexual and transgender community is vulnerable to HIV not because they are not following Catholic teachings. On the contrary, it is the stigmatizing attitudes and statements of the Catholic hierarchy that’s exposing them to HIV risk,” he added.
On Tuesday, Reyes defended the Catholic Church after former Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez said HIV cases in the country had increased because the Arroyo administration caved in to pressure from the Church and stopped distributing free condoms.
“With all due respect (to the gay community), HIV is increasing among homosexuals or men who have sex with men. I’m sure if they are having sex with men, they don’t follow the rules of the Church,” Reyes said in a forum in Intramuros, Manila.
“I’m sure they are using condoms. If you follow the Church, you will not be using condoms. This threat is among the highest,” he said.
However, Bagas said the Church hierarchy had “consistently undermined” the HIV response in the Philippines through its “rejection of evidence-based strategies that countries all over the world used to halt their HIV epidemics.”
“CBCP has caused more harm by resorting to homophobia to explain why there’s a growing HIV epidemic in the country. It is causing more injury by using the HIV epidemic to flog one of its favorite whipping boys, the gay, bisexual and transgender community, which is already suffering immeasurable pain and heartbreak due to the growing AIDS-related deaths within the community,” Bagas said.
Climate of ignorance
“Church-fueled stigma is contributing to the rise in HIV infection because it is promoting a climate of ignorance and silence. As a community, we do not see ourselves as victims of this epidemic,” he said.