India’s Health Minister is a homophobe

*** PRESS RELEASE ***

TRIKONE condemns Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s homophobic remarks about Men who have sex with Men (MSMs)

San Francisco — Trikone, a non-profit organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of South Asian descent strongly condemns Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s remarks about homosexual acts committed by Men who have sex with Men (MSM) being unnatural. On July 4, 2011, while speaking at a HIV/AIDS conference in rural India, Mr. Azad called sexual acts of men who have sex with men (MSM) “unnatural”. In his speech, Mr. Azad also happened to mention the difficulty in “detecting” MSMs in general population. He went on to say that the act of men having sex with men should not be happening in our country. The Health Minister’s comments caused a massive uproar across the country and drew sharp criticism from international agencies such as the UNAIDS. With mounting pressure, Mr. Azad issued an insincere clarification, accusing the media of taking his words out of context, that he meant “HIV/AIDS” was unnatural and transported from the west.

People across the country and the broader diaspora have come together to condemn Azad’s insensitive remarks. From this unified and unambiguous response, we can confidently say that the nation is unwilling to tolerate ignorant comments towards homosexuality. Mr. Azad has rightly come under fire for his insensitive comments and his issued clarification has done little to throw clear light on his ability to lead as the country’s health minister. Trikone strongly condemns criminalizing either homosexual conduct or HIV transmission. Such antiquated attitudes only curtail the efforts of valiant community organizers in the country, who are working on the ground, adopting grass roots strategies to encourage and establish models of testing and safe-sex practices. The Health Minister’s insensitive remarks concerning homosexuality or HIV/AIDS clearly jeopardizes the gains made in the past decade.

Like our sister organizations in India, we at Trikone have lost our faith in Mr.Azad to lead the country as the Health Minister or provide much needed services to the queer community. His personal judgments and remarks over the last weekend have cast looming questions in his ability to think and lead with clarity and in clear resonance with the medical and scientific community – a Health Minister’s prerogative for governance.
Unless an unequivocal apology is issued by the Health Minister and corrective actions suggested, we demand his ouster.

As organizations in India and abroad continue to work passionately to combat homophobia and educate people about homosexuality, we at Trikone not only condemn Ghulam Nabi Azad’s remarks but also request the Government of India to provide sensitivity training about queer issues on an on going basis to all public servants. We will be happy to put together an advisory panel or provide references if need be.

A solidarity march is being planned in San Francisco, California. On Wednesday, 07/13/2011 at 9 am, members of the Trikone community plan to peacefully assemble at the intersection of Geary and Arguello, a few hundred feet away from the Indian Consulate and our representative will hand over a letter of grievances to the Consulate General.

Contacts:
Harsha Mallajosyula (Trikone Advocacy Director), 408-332-7468,
harsha@trikone.org

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