Tag Archives: same-sex sex

Jamaican activist ends legal challenge to anti-sodomy law

A young Jamaican gay rights activist who brought an unprecedented legal challenge to the Caribbean island’s anti-sodomy law has withdrawn the claim after growing fearful about violent backlashes, advocacy groups and colleagues said over the weekend.

Last year, Javed Jaghai made headlines after initiating a constitutional court challenge to Jamaica’s 1864 law that bans consensual sex between men. He argued that the anti-sodomy law fuels homophobia and violates a charter of human rights adopted in 2011 that guarantees people the right to privacy.

But in an affidavit, Jaghai said he has been “threatened enough times to know that I am vulnerable.” The 25-year-old man believes his “loved ones are under threat” by intolerant people and the drawn-out court challenge is causing too much stress and anxiety.

“Though the cause and the case are noble, I am no longer willing to gamble with my life or the lives of my parents and siblings,” Jaghai wrote in a statement withdrawing his Supreme Court claim.

Jamaica’s rarely used anti-sodomy law bans anal sex and sets a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and hard labor. Anything interpreted as “gross indecency” between men can be punished by two years in prison.

Janet Burak of New York-based advocacy group AIDS-Free World said the fear that pushed Jaghai to end his court challenge is an all-too familiar fear among the LGBT community in Jamaica. It’s “the same fear that keeps gay men in Jamaica underground, away from effective HIV testing, prevention treatment, care and support interventions,” she said in a statement.

When Jaghai initiated the legal challenge last year, several church pastors led crowded revival meetings in Jamaica’s two biggest cities to oppose overturning the anti-sodomy law.

Many Jamaicans consider homosexuality to be wrong, but insist violence against gays is blown out of proportion by activists. But anti-gay epithets are heard frequently and attacks on LGBT Jamaicans or people perceived to be gay do occur from time to time. Last year, a transgender teen named Dwayne Jones was murdered by a mob at a crowded street dance and his slaying remains unsolved.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller vowed to put the anti-sodomy law to a “conscience vote” in Parliament during the leadup to 2011 elections but nothing has been accomplished.

J-FLAG, Jamaica’s biggest gay rights group, says Jaghai’s courage has inspired other young homosexuals in Jamaica who are not willing to live in the shadows.

“Javed has made history and will forever remain a hero to the Jamaican LGBT community,” said activist Brian-Paul Welsh.

Gay men divided over use of HIV prevention drug

It’s the Truvada conundrum: A drug hailed as a lifesaver for many people infected by HIV is at the heart of a rancorous debate among gay men, AIDS activists and health professionals over its potential for protecting uninfected men who engage in same-sex sex without using condoms.

Many doctors and activists see immense promise for such preventive use of Truvada, and are campaigning hard to raise awareness of it as a crucial step toward reducing new HIV infections, which now total about 50,000 a year in the U.S. Recent efforts range from think-tank forums and informational websites to a festive event at a New York City bar.

Yet others – despite mounting evidence of Truvada’s effectiveness – say such efforts are reckless, tempting some condom users to abandon that layer of protection and exposing them to an array of other sexually transmitted infections aside from HIV.

“If something comes along that’s better than condoms, I’m all for it, but Truvada is not that,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “Let’s be honest: It’s a party drug.”

Even as gay-rights organizations celebrate collective progress in the fight to legalize same-sex marriage, the less-publicized Truvada debate has fueled bitter divisions within the gay community. Some who use the drug say they’ve felt shamed by some who don’t, and there’s now a lively backlash by users and their allies, including promotion of a “Truvada Whore” T-shirt.

“The discussion can torch emotions like a flame-thrower on a fuel depot,” wrote Steve Ramos of the Dallas Voice as the gay-oriented publication reported on the debate in March.

Truvada, produced by California-based Gilead Sciences, has been around for a decade, serving as one of the key drugs used in combination with others as the basic treatment for people who have the AIDS-causing virus HIV. However, the drug took on a more contentious aspect in 2012 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP – in other words, for use to prevent people from getting sexually transmitted HIV in the first place.

Since then, critics have warned that many gay men won’t heed Truvada’s once-a-day regimen and complained of its high cost – roughly $13,000 a year. Truvada’s proponents say most insurance plans – including Medicaid programs – now cover prescriptions for it, and they cite studies showing that the blue pill, if taken diligently, can reduce the risk of getting HIV by more than 90 percent.

Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, medical director of the ambulatory HIV program at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, served on the FDA panel that recommended approving Truvada for preventive purposes and is among many doctors who hope that doubts about it fade.

“For folks who are having a significant amount of unprotected sex, it’s a slam dunk – not only giving them protective medicine, but engaging them in testing, a whole package of regular health care,” he said.

Yet Daskalakis says that out of his large clientele, only about 25 men are taking Truvada for prevention.

“There’s some interesting social pushback,” he said. “I’ve spoken to some of my patients who’d totally be candidates but are hesitant to do it. They don’t want to be labeled as people on the drug because there’s a social stigma.”

Daskalakis is dismayed by groups like the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation – one of the country’s leading HIV/AIDS service providers – which suggest that prescribing Truvada for prevention means condoning condomless sex.

“I find some of that opposition irresponsible,” Daskalakis said. “If some men don’t want to use condoms, they won’t. You have to deal with it by acknowledging that sometimes unprotected sex happens, and you can still prevent HIV infections.”

To date, preventive use of Truvada appears to be limited, due partly to misgivings among some gay men and partly to lack of awareness.

According to Gilead, 1,774 people starting using Truvada for prevention between January 2011 and March 2013 – nearly half of them women. The company said more recent figures aren’t available, but health officials in several cities said they see no signs of a major surge in usage.

“Out of our thousands of patients, we have about 20 on PrEP,” said Dr. Robert Winn, medical director at Philadelphia’s Mazzoni Center, which serves many gay clients.

“Many ask about it, few take it,” Winn said. “The number one reason for that gap is the commitment of having to take it every day.”

Weinstein, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation leader, takes heart from the low usage figures, saying they bear out his reservations about Truvada. He says he’s undeterred by criticism of his insistence that condomless sex – even in the Truvada era – should be discouraged among gay men with multiple partners.

“There’s an element in the gay community that espouses `anything goes,’ that is for sexual freedom and not giving an inch,” he said. “But demonizing me or AHF isn’t going to shut us up.”

Another Truvada skeptic is Richard Weinmeyer, a research associate with the American Medical Association’s Ethics Group. In an article in February in Bioethics Forum, Weinmeyer – expressing his personal views – argued that preventive use of Truvada could encourage sexual irresponsibility.

“Personal responsibility for one’s actions has simply been thrown out the window in a community in which we are too often concerned about stigma and moral judgment,” he wrote. “We dare not speak against the reckless behavior of others because we wring our hands over the omnipresent worry that we will shame one another.”

The article drew some harsh online criticism; readers called it “puritanical” and “fear-mongering.” But Weinmeyer raised a topic that’s a visceral part of the debate – the concept of gay-on-gay “shaming” in which men using Truvada as PrEP are stigmatized.

New York psychotherapist Damon Jacobs, an enthusiastic Truvada user since 2011, has encountered the shaming syndrome as he encourages more gay men to learn about the drug’s preventive capabilities. Since co-founding an informational web site called PrEP-o-licious.org, Jacobs says he’s heard from men distressed by reactions they faced after broaching the possibility of taking Truvada.

“They’d email me about the names they were called – the `Truvada whore’ syndrome,” Jacobs said. “They’d talk with their friends about responsible condomless sex, and they’d get shamed. They’d get seen as a slut.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers extensive information about PrEP on its web site.

“Strong research evidence indicates that PrEP, when used consistently, is safe and effective for reducing the risk of acquiring HIV sexually,” it says.

However, Jacobs says other wings of the medical establishment should be more active in disseminating that message, both to gay men and to doctors.

“A lot of doctors are still under the belief that if they give their patients PrEP, they’ll go out and have condomless sex,” Jacobs said. “What they don’t understand is that gay men are already doing that.”

At the Fenway Institute in Boston – which specializes in gay, lesbian and transgender health – many doctors initially had misgivings about PrEP, but have overcome them, according to Dr. Kenneth Mayer, the institute’s medical research director.

“There definitely were apprehensions at the beginning – would it increase risk-taking behavior, would people take it regularly,” Mayer said. “More recently, the questions are not whether it’s a good idea, but the optimal way to provide it, and which patients are the best candidates.”

“I don’t have an issue with people voicing concerns about it, but we have proof it works,” said Mayer, who hopes high-level federal officials get more involved in the public discussion.

Another challenge is raising awareness of PrEP in black communities with high HIV infection rates.

“We have young minority men becoming infected at disproportionately alarming rates, and now we have something that could avert this,” said Lynnette Ford of GMHC, a New York City AIDS service organization. “But there’s not a lot of information out there in communities that need it most.”

Demetre Daskalakis, the Mount Sinai doctor, said the Truvada debate recalls the way birth control was viewed in some quarters in the 1960s – as an accessory to promiscuity.

“Anyone who takes Truvada, someone is looking at them and saying they’re licentious,” Daskalakis said. “When this becomes more normalized, we’ll be fine.”

On the Web…

CDC fact sheet: HTTP://WWW.CDC.GOV/HIV/PDF/PREVENTION-PREP-FACTSHEET.PDF 

4 men publicly whipped in Nigeria for homosexuality

A human rights network says four men convicted of having gay sex have been whipped publicly in an Islamic court in northern Nigeria.

Dorothy Aken’Ova of the Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights Network says the men will go to jail and face humiliation and beatings if rights organizations do not come up with an additional fine of 20,000 naira ($120) each meted out on March 6 by a judge in Bauchi city.

She says the men, aged between 20 and 22, should not have been convicted because their confessions were forced by law agents who beat them.

Gays can be sentenced to death under Islamic Shariah law in force in some northern Nigerian states.

The four men were among dozens arrested after Nigeria strengthened laws against homosexuals in January.

Supreme Court rejects push to revive anti-sodomy law

The Supreme Court began its new term on Oct. 7, turning away hundreds of appeals.

The justices took the bench just past 10 a.m. on the first Monday in October, even as much of the rest of the government was coping with a partial shutdown.

Among the appeals denied on Oct. 7 was Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s request to review a federal appeals court ruling that threw out the state’s ban on oral and anal sex. Ten years ago, the Supreme Court struck down the Texas anti-sodomy law in a case involving two adults. Cuccinelli said the sodomy ban should remain when applied to sex between a minor and an adult.

The new term may be short on the sort of high-profile battles over health care and gay marriage that marked the past two years, but the court has taken cases on campaign contributions, housing discrimination, government-sanctioned prayer and the president’s recess appointments. Abortion, contraceptive coverage under the new health care law and cellphone privacy also may find their way onto the court’s calendar.

Several of those cases ask the court to overrule prior decisions – bold action in an institution that relies on the power of precedent.

“There are an unusual number of cases going right to hot-button cultural issues and aggressive briefing on the conservative side asking precedents to be overruled,” said Georgetown University law professor Pamela Harris, who served in President Barack Obama’s Justice Department.

The campaign finance argument on Oct. 8 was the first major case on the calendar. The 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case in 2010 allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited sums in support of or opposition to candidates, as long as the spending is independent of the candidates. The new case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, challenges the overall limits on what an individual may give to candidates, political parties and political action committees in a two-year federal election cycle. The $2,600 limit on contributions to a candidate is not at issue.

Among other top cases already set for review:

• Greece, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester, is asking the court to uphold its practice of opening town council meetings with a prayer, despite an appeals court ruling that found the invocations a violation of the First Amendment because they almost always were Christian prayers.

• Mount Holly, N.J., is defending a plan to demolish and redevelop a rundown neighborhood against claims that it discriminates because it disproportionately affects African-American and Latino residents. At issue is whether there also must be an intent to discriminate under federal housing law.

• Michigan is fighting to preserve a constitutional amendment that bans the use of racial preferences in education after a federal appeals court ruled that the constitutional ban is itself discriminatory. This case does not involve the viability of affirmative action, but rather whether opponents of racial preferences can enshrine that ban in the state constitution.

• Massachusetts is defending a law that creates a 35-foot buffer zone at abortion clinics to limit protesters’ ability to interact with patients. The court upheld a buffer zone law in Colorado in 2000.

There are many challenging bans and restrictions against same-sex marriage, including several that could reach the Supreme Court in 2014, including challenges to state constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage, state law prohibiting businesses from discriminating against same-sex couples and California’s law barring the use of so-called “ex-gay” therapy on minors.

Report: Kuwait to use test to ‘detect’ gay visitors

Kuwait claims it will conduct medical screening tests to “detect” gays arriving to the Gulf kingdom, according to a report from the International Business Times.

The report posted on the IBT website said that Yousouf Mindkar, director of public health at the Kuwaiti health ministry, announced plans to routinely screen people arriving to the Gulf Cooperation Countries to identify LGBT people, who would be banned from entering the country.

The minister reportedly told a daily newspaper in Kuwait, “Health centers conduct the routine medical check to assess the health of the expatriates when they come into the GCC countries. However, we will take stricter measures that will help us detect gays who will be then barred from entering Kuwait or any of the GCC member states.”

There was no information in the report about what kind of test would be used.

Same-sex sexual activity is outlawed in the GCC member countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Louisiana sheriff’s office arrests gay men under invalidated sodomy law

Although sex in public and solicitation of “unnatural carnal copulation” for money are illegal in Louisiana, neither element was part of these 12 cases, and most of the men were arrested after agreeing to have sex away from the park at a private residence, District Attorney Hillar Moore III told the newspaper.

Moore said, “From what I’ve seen of these cases, legally, we found no criminal violation.”

Metro Councilman John Delgado said Sheriff Sid Gautreaux owes an apology to the men arrested and the entire parish.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that a Texas sodomy law was invalid. Louisiana was among nine states which had such laws. Richard Ieyoub, then attorney general, said the high court’s ruling made Louisiana’s law unenforceable.

However, “crime against nature” remains part of Louisiana law, punishable by up to five years at hard labor and a $2,000 fine. The criminal code accessible through the Legislature’s website states that “Crime against nature is the unnatural carnal copulation by a human being with another of the same sex or opposite sex or with an animal.”

Gautreaux has told the Capital City Alliance, an LGBT group, that deputies “will no longer be enforcing this law until the courts or the legislature removes it.

The sheriff’s office sent a statement to the newspaper saying it “should have taken a different approach” to worries about park safety, the newspaper reported.

“We will consult with others in the legislative and judicial branches to see what can be done to remove this law from the criminal code that each deputy receives and to also find alternative ways to deter sexual and lewd activity from our parks,” it said.

The sheriff’s office said it only meant to respond to calls from parents, park officials and members of the public about safety concerns at parks.

“When we receive reports of public masturbation, sex and other lewd activity in a park where children are playing, we must take these concerns seriously,” the statement says. “Our intent was honorable. Our approach, however, is something we must evaluate and change.”

In an email to the sheriff’s office, Delgado wrote that its response on Sunday sensationalized the matter by using terms like “lewd conduct” and “public masturbation” and suggesting that children were present during the arrests.

“The newspaper article makes it quite clear that nothing of the sort occurred in these 12 arrests,” Delgado says. “These men were arrested even though they were innocent of any crime.”

Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks said the office has no record of being informed that the District Attorney’s Office would not pursue charges in the cases.

On the Web…

Criminal code: http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/law.aspx?d=78695 

U.S. State Department posts LGBT travel advisory

The U.S. State Department has posted a travel advisory page for LGBT Americans that notes that while a number of countries provide legal protections to LGBT people a “significant number … criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.”

The State Department advisory cautions that people in some of those countries “could be sentenced to prison, and/or be punished by fines, deportation, flogging, or even sentenced to death. Before choosing one’s international destination, LGBT travelers should carefully consider the laws and biases of their international destination and decide how open one can be regarding one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Personal judgment and knowledge of local laws and customs before one goes will help ensure your safety.”

The page contains a link to information for specific countries, as well as advice, such as: 

• Invest in a good guide book – many specialize in information for LGBT travelers.

• The Internet and the press that specialize in LGBT issues are good resources.

• A travel agent or tour operator might have information about LGBT issues, particularly in the more popular holiday destinations.

• Local LGBT groups are an excellent source of information about local laws and attitudes.

• Sign up for the State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and download the Smart Traveler App.

The page also contains a series of questions and answers for travelers related to the arrest and harassment of LGBT people in other countries, the types of documents LGBT people and their families should carry when traveling, specific questions and answers for transgender travelers, links to information about entry policies for people living with HIV and instructions on what to do if a problem arises.

In addition, the page explains the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act for binational couples in the United States while providing information for a U.S. citizen planning to live in another country with his or her partner.

On the Web…

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/lgbt/lgbt_5887.html 

Another push to repeal of Montana sodomy law

Activists again will push to repeal an obsolete and unenforceable law in Montana that says consensual same-sex sex is a crime.

The courts struck down the sodomy law in the 1990s, but anti-gay lawmakers continue to protect its place in state code.

The Montana Supreme Court in 1997 ruled as unconstitutional the portion of the deviate sexual relations law that includes “sexual contact or sexual intercourse between two persons of the same sex.”

Senate Bill 107, introduced by Montana Sen. Tom Facey, would remove it from state code. The Missoula Democrat said the time has come to strike a law that is unenforceable and offensive.

“Words do matter. I hope you can pass this bill to get the unconstitutional words out of our code,” Facey said.

Groups opposed to the law have tried for years to get the Legislature to formally strike language they argue is hurtful. Two years ago, a similar proposal to repeal the law cleared the Senate only to die in the more conservative House.

But since then, the Montana Republican Party has removed from its platform the position that it seeks to make homosexual acts illegal. The party remains opposed to gay marriage.

Freshman Republican state Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, of Superior, said he is co-sponsoring the measure because it “respects the rights of Montanans.”

Opposition in a hearing on the repeal was muted compared with arguments in past legislative sessions over the matter. Only two stood to oppose the bill.

Dallas Erickson, with Montana Citizens for Decency Through Law, argued that the courts got the decision wrong. He said his group opposes the gay “lifestyle” and argued that such an anti-sodomy law has been on the books since statehood because it reflects the values of the state’s residents.

More than a dozen advocates told the Judiciary Committee that it is time to remove the language.

“Please, make our laws match our constitution,” said Linda Gryczan, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to rule the law unconstitutional.

The Montana County Attorneys Association also supported the bill.

The committee did not take any immediate action on the measure.

Jamee Greer, with the Montana Human Rights Association, noted it has also been 10 years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional another state’s similar law.

“We are hopeful they are going to do the right thing this time,” Greer said.

Official predicts passage of anti-gay bill in Uganda in 2012

Uganda’s anti-gay bill will be passed before the end of 2012 despite international criticism of the draft legislation, the speaker of the country’s parliament said this week, insisting it is what most Ugandans want.

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga told The Associated Press that the bill, which originally mandated death for some gay acts, will become law this year.

Ugandans “are demanding it,” she said, reiterating a promise she made before a meeting of anti-gay activists who spoke of “the serious threat” posed by gays to Uganda’s children. Some Christian clerics at the meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, asked the speaker to pass the law as “a Christmas gift.”

“Speaker, we cannot sit back while such (a) destructive phenomenon is taking place in our nation,” the activists said in a petition. “We therefore, as responsible citizens, feel duty-bound to bring this matter to your attention as the leader of Parliament … so that lawmakers can do something to quickly address the deteriorating situation in our nation.”

The anti-gay activists paraded in front of Kadaga, with parents and schoolchildren holding up signs saying homosexuality is “an abomination.” The speaker then promised to consider the bill within two weeks, declaring that “the power is in our hands.”

“Who are we not to do what they have told us? These people should not be begging us,” Kadaga said of activists who want the bill to become law.

Uganda’s penal code criminalizes homosexuality, but in 2009 a lawmaker with the ruling party said a stronger law was needed to protect Uganda’s children from gays. Parliamentarian David Bahati charged at the time that wealthy gays from the West were “recruiting” poor children into gay lifestyles with promises of money and a better life. Bahati believes his bill is sufficiently popular among lawmakers to pass without difficulty.

The irony is that wealthy and influential Christian right activists in the United States are promoting the anti-gay legislation in Uganda and other anti-gay efforts elsewhere in the world.

Gay rights activists in Uganda, while opposing the bill, point out that it has helped their fight for equality by putting what used to be a taboo subject on the national agenda. Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries.

Pepe Julian Onziema, a prominent Ugandan gay activist, said the new push to pass the law was frustrating.

“It’s disappointing, but we are also going to seek a meeting with the speaker,” Onziema said. But it is unlikely the speaker will agree to such a gathering, he said.

While the bill appears to be popular in Uganda, it has attracted widespread criticism abroad. President Barack Obama has described it as “odious,” while some European countries have threatened to cut aid to Uganda if the bill becomes law.

Malawi lauded on anti-gay law moratorium

Going against a trend in Africa, Malawi’s government is moving to suspend laws against homosexuality and has ordered police not to arrest people for same-sex acts until the anti-gay laws are reviewed by parliament.

Human Rights Watch called the decision “courageous” and said it should inspire other countries that criminalize homosexuality.

Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara last week told a public debate on minority rights that the police had been ordered not to arrest anyone suspected of engaging in homosexuality. Anyone convicted under Malawi’s anti-gay laws, some of the toughest in the world, can get up to 14 years in jail with hard labor. Kasambara said parliament will soon discuss the laws.

In May, President Joyce Banda announced that she wants to repeal Malawi’s laws against homosexual acts, going against a trend in a continent in which gays are being increasingly singled out for prosecution. Traditionalists and religious leaders condemned her, saying she was trying to please Western donor nations. They argued that homosexuality is alien to Malawi’s cultural and religious values.

Kasambara said the suspension of arrests was ordered because “if we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government.”

Human Rights Watch said on Nov. 7 that arresting people for consensual same-sex conduct violates international human rights standards and constitutional guarantees of equality in many countries.

“Malawi has taken a bold step forward, putting respect for its own constitutional guarantees of equality front and center,” said Tiseke Kasambala, a Malawian who is the Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Malawi’s decision has given hope to thousands who risk prison sentences under such laws.”

Amnesty International also praised Malawi for the “historic step in the fight against discrimination in the country.”

At least 76 countries, 38 of them in Africa, have criminalized consensual same-sex conduct, according to Human Rights Watch.