The issue of homosexuality is in the media again, thanks to Lee Kuan Yew's statement a last month where he said, "If in fact it is true, and I have asked doctors this, that you are genetically born a homosexual because that's the nature of the genetic random transmission of genes, you can't help it. So why should we criminalise it?"
Actually, the issue has been in the limelight since the review of the Singapore Penal Code, where the law now allows heterosexuals to have anal and oral sex, but that it is still a crime for two males to do so.
It is not a crime to be gay, but it is a crime if one indulges in anal sex.
It doesn't make sense, I know, but this is Singapore. Even though it has been said many times that the law is in not going to be actively enforced (which begs the question why is it retained?), it is there to appease the conservatives and the religious right.
But what makes it dangerous and in fact costing lives, just to appease these people are the obstacles involve in HIV and AIDS prevention for MSM (men who have sex with men).
At the AIDS Memorial on Sunday, the 34th edition of The Act, a publication by AfA (Action for AIDS) was given to all attendants. You can download it here.
There was a section on consequences of Sections 377 and 377A of the Penal Code on HIV prevention. The below is an extract, which I am deeply concerned about:
4 Inability to address the needs of young MSM
It has been very difficult to reach out to young MSM who are contemplating or already having sex. Young MSM are especially at risk of STI including HIV infection because they are less able to access sources of information and advice about safer sexual
practices for the following reasons –
a) School-based programs do not have information and materials that discuss homosexuality in an impartial and unbiased manner, including emotions, identity, sexual practices, safer sex techniques and negotiation skills
b) Young MSM may fear seeking professional advice (e.g. from doctors, teachers, youth workers) because to do so would be to admit having committed a crime;
c) Support groups and youth organizations for young MSM are practically non-existent; if they do exist they tend to keep a low profile to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Many young MSM will not know of sources of support and peer education;
d) MSM venues and clubs operate under clear age-restricted rules to comply with licensing laws. Young MSM are thus not exposed to AIDS education messages and campaigns; young MSM are also less likely to be able to afford the cover charges levied at these clubs and venues. They are also less exposed to the social climate within the organized gay community, which strongly supports "safer sex";
e) Young MSM may feel isolated and marginalized and regarded as not part of the broader society due to the criminalisation of their sexuality.
An application for funding of a program that included a component catering to young MSM was rejected because the government agency either did not think it was important or deemed that it was too sensitive a topic to address.
5 Censorship of MSM educational materials and events
Action for AIDS has on several occasions been asked to stop distributing materials containing information on homosexuality even though these materials were meant specifically for MSM venues and events. The reasons repeatedly given by the authorities was that because homosexual sex is illegal, it cannot be mentioned; therefore providing information on safe sex relevant to MSM is also illegal.
Because of the law, some young people are HIV positive because the relevant information and sexual education doesn't reach them. When something is thought of as bad, crime or sin, how does one expect it to be discussed and brought into the open?
It is a fact that young people, especially high school students are having sex with strangers from MIRC and personals websites. And this reality is borne by the testimonies of young MSMs in the publication.
Extracts (prints in bold are my own):
"It is hard to place a timeline on when I discover or realize I was a gay. Given that I had an interest in guys when I was 12 or 13 years old. My first sexual encounter started when I was like 15 years or so, when I got to know the MIRC, Internet chat rooms where I find out there is a gay channel and sgboy channel inside. Through there, I met my first sexual encounter and I had my first anal sex without protection...
From then on, I met guys out for fun and sex until I had a 6 – 7 months of so-called relationship with this guy purely based on sex, which has a term of buddy sex. During the ending period of this relationship, I fell sick a lot of times while he has some nose issue with himself and the doctor but we still continued having sex sometimes. Although we met up regularly, we still do meet other guys up for fun. But in this buddy sex thing, there was not any protection used and most of the time he would ejaculate inside me. But when I had fun outside, the guys would use condoms.
It was when I was 17 years plus, I had a month of prolonged illness of flu, cough and sore throat. I remember it was in near December, Christmas seasons. I started getting sick, and after each recovery I would get sick again. Every visit to the neighborhood
clinic made me spend more and more as each time the doctor would prescribe a stronger antibiotic for me. The last visit during that period cost about $90/-...
I do believe that, no matter what, I cannot let my parents find out about this. Each passing day, I would just live my life just as normally I have been doing, but sometimes thoughts that I am going to need medication brings confusion into my head. I did not really have a way of dealing with having HIV. But having thoughts about it running through my head here and there is kind of stressful. My family isn't really financially well off as one of my parents is retrenched. All I had in my mind is to soften my mother's burden and not letting her worrying over my condition...
I do believe that education to the young is the only way in helping us and the society in learning more about HIV, safe sex etc. No matter how young a person is we are exposed to the world in various ways which can influence us in some way. Educating the young in safe sex should be included with the various symptoms of all the sexually transmitted diseases like HIV." - Chinese 19 years, diagnosed at 18
I knew I was gay when I was in secondary school. It was also during that time that I had my first sexual encounter. However I did not tell my friends in school about it. The first time I told a friend about my sexuality was when I was in junior college...
I believed I contracted HIV when I had unprotected sex with someone I knew over the Internet while I was serving the army. I had underestimated the importance of safer sex. I did not think I would be unlucky as to contract HIV. I had sexual encounters too early and the importance of safer sex did not hit me as being crucial. To me, it was more of a form of contraception than a protection against STIs at that time. HIV and other STIs were simply diseases which I thought were gory pictures showing infected genitals...
I am convinced that a better awareness of safer sex and the various STIs can protect individuals. They should be empowered with the necessary information in order to make an informed decision. I wished I knew the dangers of having unprotected sex as well as knowing how I could have protected myself. By casting sex as the forbidden fruit, it made me curious, and I am sure many others feel the same. Being open and honest about sex could be one way forward... - Chinese 23 years, diagnosed at 20
Even though the message for safe sex seems pretty common for me, it is quite obvious that it is quite uncommon for a lot of young people. The best way would be to reach them in school, through some campaign or awareness program.
But then, how relevant and how effective can it be, when even straight sex are still somewhat spoken in hush tones, what more homosexual acts. As you can read from the above, words like "homosexual" and "gay" can't even appear in print in reading materials for distribution.
There are many who doesn't have access to the internet, printed materials, etc. Even if they do, the importance of safe sex have to be emphasized and reinforced over and over to make sure they get. Especially for teenagers, where it is the phase of experimentation and rebellion, things like this might just whizzed past them. Seem like trivial. Like what are the chances?
If only humans are like the HIV virus - non-discriminatory. It does not care about one's race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, wealth, social status, whatever. It does not care who it infects.
And that is what makes it so dangerous and lethal.