Policies that criminalize same-sex behaviour and punitive laws continue to impede access to existing healthcare services for those at heightened risk of HIV such as men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender populations. The 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (10th ICAAP) is being organized in South Korea - a country where a lot more needs to be done to provide safe, supportive and dignified access to services for LGBT community. "South Korea doesn’t have a very good record regarding programming around sexual minorities and HIV. If you look at the data, one of the highest number of people dying among young LGBT people are here. There is a whole issue around shame and culture that impacts upon their lives. The government is not very responsive, and no education system exists on these issues" said Shivanand Khan, Chief Executive of Naz Foundation International and Co-Chair of Asia Pacific Coalition on Male sexual health (APCOM).
According to the Wikipedia, "Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in South Korea can face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in South Korea, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not entitled to the same legal protections available to heterosexuals. As in many countries, however, the climate for gays and lesbians is evolving and becoming more tolerant.Homosexuality in South Korea (Republic of Korea) is not specifically mentioned in either the South Korean Constitution or in the Civil Penal Code. Article 31 of the Korean Human Rights Committee Law states that "no individual is to be discriminated against on the basis of his or her sexual orientation." However, Article 92 of the Military Penal Code, which is currently under a legal challenge, singles out sexual relations between members of the same sex as "sexual harassment", punishable by a maximum of one year in prison. The Military Penal Code does not make a distinction between consensual and non-consensual crimes and names consensual intercourse between homosexual adults as reciprocal rape."
"What we hope to achieve with discussions with colleagues from LGBT communities in Korea is that these issues have a high visibility and more knowledge management. From Asia Pacific perspective we are hoping to have a better recognition of some of these crucial issues that have an impact upon our lives by increasing our risks and vulnerabilities to HIV" added Shivananda Khan, who was conferred upon the Order of British Empire (OBE) by the British Queen in recognition of his contribution to HIV prevention among MSM.
"My message for the conference is that the key vulnerable communities in Asia and the Pacific to HIV are MSM and transgender populations. Unless we are engaged in designing, developing and providing services, HIV is never going to be resolved as a key issue in our parts of world" said Shivananda Khan.
Shivananda reminds us of one of the landmark developments of 2011 in this context - the UN Political Declaration adapted in June 2011 by member countries including South Korea.
The UN Political Declaration among other very significant points says that: "...many national HIV prevention strategies inadequately focus on populations that epidemiological evidence shows are at higher risk, specifically men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers, and further note, however, that each country should define the specific populations that are key to its epidemic and response, based on the epidemiological and national context."
However the UN Political Declaration didn't mention transgender populations as high risk group for HIV. "One of the key successes of 2011 is the new UN General Assembly Political Declaration that was signed up in June 2011 where for the first time MSM are particularly mentioned as a vulnerable community. Okay they didn’t mention transgender populations but it is step on the way. For Asia Pacific, we have had two UN declarations that have mentioned MSM and transgender – these are major steps forward in making the political environment more conducive towards working with MSM and transgender communities" said Shivananda Khan.
Further adds Shivananda: "As always we hope that this congress will push the envelope even further with clear recognition from all governments that unless they engage MSM and transgender people, HIV is not going to be resolved in terms of reducing the level of HIV."
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS) and is reporting on-site from 10th ICAAP, Busan, South Korea for CNS. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP and taught Physics at India’s prestigious Loreto Convent. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: http://www.citizen-news.org)