Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for an end to the criminalisation of homosexuality as an important part of the fight against HIV.
Writing in the Lancet, he linked the stigmatisation gay people face to the continuing rise of infection levels among men who have sex with men.
‘In the future, the laws that criminalise so many forms of human love and commitment will look the way apartheid laws do to us now – so obviously wrong’, Tutu wrote. ‘Such a terrible waste of human potential’.
‘Never let anyone make you feel inferior for being who you are. When you live the life you were meant to live, in freedom and dignity’.
The Archbishop is the patron of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, an HIV treatment and research centre based in Cape Town.
‘The papers in The Lancet Series on HIV in men who have sex with men (MSM) tell us about how far we have to go in providing care, in acceptance, in ceasing to withhold our love’, Tutu continued.
‘They also tell us what we each already know, if we are prepared to be honest with ourselves – that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are a part of every human community.’
Tutu praised ‘young people’ around the world for distancing themselves from ‘intolerance’.
Terrence Higgins Trust director of health improvement Genevieve Edwards said, ‘Archbishop Tutu’s words are both moving and heartening. Stigma is a major factor driving the disproportional spread of the HIV epidemic among gay and bisexual men, not just in the UK but worldwide’.
‘If you spend your life being told you are a second-class citizen, you have less motivation to take care of yourself and you’re more likely to take risks with your health. To improve someone’s self-care you need, first and foremost, to improve their self esteem’.
‘The Archbishop’s commentary should act as a clarion call to all of us, whatever our beliefs, that there is a basic human responsibility to accept and respect others for who they are’.
‘With more than 100,000 people now living with HIV in the UK, faith groups have an increasingly important role to play in raising awareness and halting the spread of infection, outside the church as well as within’.
‘It is inspirational to see Archbishop Tutu leading the charge on this’.
Tutu has previously spoken out in opposition to the Anglican Church’s negative attitude towards LGBT people. He told BBC Radio 4 that ‘God must be weeping’ over what he referred to as the Church’s ‘obsession’ with sexuality in the face of poverty, HIV and Aids.
‘If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn’t worship that God’, he said, adding that he was ‘ashamed’ of the exclusion of people from the institution on the basis of their sexuality.