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Gomez responds to Hall on gays and AIDS

Director of the National HIV/AIDS Programme Dr. Perry Gomez said yesterday that stigmatization and discrimination play a major role in why HIV/AIDS rates are so high in gay and lesbian groups in The Bahamas.

Dr. Gomez was responding to comments made by Baptist Bishop Simeon Hall who last week said homosexuality is “anti-family” and urged homosexuals to turn to God.

He said in a statement that homosexuals should seek help to turn away from their “non-productive and deadly practice”.

Hall made the comments after a Nassau Guardian article revealed that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in The Bahamas among men who have sex with men (MSMs) is near 14 percent, which is nearly double the eight percent recorded in 2008, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

Gomez, who spoke in an interview yesterday after the closing of the 2011 Caribbean HIV Conference at Atlantis Resort, said, “I don’t think it helps, particularly the timing of it coinciding with this conference, but you live in a free society and you have to go with the flow.

“The issue with MSMs [is] that they are a very private group. It has been difficult in getting information from that group of people over the years and part of the issue is stigma and discrimination.

“So we have our own part to play in how we perceive people and we have to be more tolerant as individuals in societies that not everybody is alike and there will be differences,” he said.

Gomez said that it is important to respect people’s right to be what they want to be.

“Why rates may be higher with them [is] because we as other members of society stigmatize and discriminate against them, and so it’s not easy for them to seek care and help.

“So the best way to feed the epidemic is to segregate people [and] make it difficult for them to get help, and so it goes on and on.”

Hall said in his statement, “This sexual practice cannot produce anything and now we are seeing that, according to these latest statistics, it is deadly.”

However, Gomez said the tide is turning and eventually there will be more openness and acceptance of people for who they are.

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