Homophobic Violence is a Global Health Problem

Homophobic Violence is a Global Health Problem

27.6.2016

Some phenomena that pose a health risk—and can cause illness or even death—receive little or no attention because they affect countries to which we do not feel closely connected or because they give rise to a trickle of cases spaced out over time and, for that reason, tend not to be perceived as significant.

Homophobic violence is a global epidemic and the problem can only be addressed through strong commitment to fully protecting the health and lives of those affected (...)

The impact on public opinion of such phenomena is greater when they occur inside our own framework of political, economic or cultural reference, and much greater if, in addition, the cost in terms of damage to health and loss of life is high and is accumulated over a brief or very short period of time.

While reliable data is difficult to obtain, available studies show that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is one of those phenomena. According to the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity affects both men and women and includes many different forms of violence: murder, kidnapping and torture; physical, psychological and verbal abuse; rape and sexual abuse.

Murder of LGBT people appears to be particularly prevalent in Latin America. The Brazilian government reported the violent death of 310 members of the LGBT community in 2012 alone, a figure more than six times that of the death toll of 49 in the recent mass shooting on June 12 in Orlando, Florida.

The epidemic of homophobic violence (...)  greatly complicates interventions aimed at dealing with other pandemics, in particular that of HIV/AIDS

Civil society organisations in Peru have documented 249 murders of LGBT individuals between 2006 and 2010. In Honduras, apparently reliable figures show that 37 LGBT people were murdered in the country in 2015. The phenomenon also affects other countries in the region to a lesser extent.

My own research among transgender women in Central America indicates that the mean life expectancy in that community is under 35 years—one of the lowest in the world for any population group—and that homicide is the leading cause of death. The information on the situation in other countries, particularly in the Middle East, is incomplete and the figures we do have are difficult to verify.

Violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity affects both men and women and includes many different forms of violence: murder, kidnapping and torture (...)

The epidemic of homophobic violence—characterised by its persistence through lulls and sporadic outbreaks—not only gives rise to an elevated number of premature and avoidable deaths, but also greatly complicates interventions aimed at dealing with other pandemics, in particular that of HIV/AIDS.

In 2007,  a pioneering article by Stefan Baral and colleagues showed that men who have sex with men are up to nine times more likely to be infected with HIV than members of the general population in low-income countries in Africa, America and Asia, a circumstance attributed mainly to the lack of specific prevention programmes, which are impossible to put in place given the prevailing political and social homophobia.

These statistics should serve as a reminder that the burden of disease caused by homophobia is not made up solely of isolated cases in developed societies that can be remedied with reactive measures (although such measures are certainly necessary). Homophobic violence is a global epidemic and the problem can only be addressed through strong commitment to fully protecting the health and lives of those affected in a context of unconditional respect for sexual diversity and by ensuring the defence of every individual’s human rights without exception.