To help or to harm?

Some Christians are not only content to use the Bible as a weapon; some are also using scientific data in their armoury against the gay community. The latest attack involves statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which shows a large proportion (63%) of HIV cases in the United States being amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) [1], many are using this to claim that homosexuality is dangerous, and justify their claims that same-sex marriage should not be legal and the like.

Lets take a moment to examine these statistics because they are not as black and white as they are portrayed.  The data does not show the number of people tested and, apart from those confirmed positive for HIV, their background information (gender, ethnicity, sexuality). As HIV infection is an on-going issue globally, as well as in the homosexual community and it is one of the diseases being actively monitored (official term is ‘notifiable disease’) by the CDC and other health organisations around the world. It is highly likely that more gay people would have been screened. At time of writing this article, the CDC has not published the numbers of people who were tested.

Being gay is not the risk factor, certain physical acts are; specifically anal sex.  Not every gay man engages in anal sex [2], and conversely, not every person that engages in anal sex is gay. The statistics show black women continue to be far more affected by HIV than women of other races/ethnicity and account for nearly two-thirds of all new infections among women. This brings socioeconomic factors into the discussion. Looking at other areas of the world, HIV is a major issue in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region, with nearly 1 in every 20 adults living with HIV, and sixty nine per cent of all people living with HIV are living in this region [3]. Healthcare is far less accessible, it is illegal to engage in same-sex acts (some countries have the death penalty for such acts) and has one of the highest rape statistics in the world [4] so these numbers are almost certainly under-reported. HIV infection is globally under reported but at least in the western world, you can get tested. Homosexual sex is not the only method of being infected with HIV. Injection Drug Users (IDU) make up 16 per cent of all people currently infected with HIV in the United States. Combine all this with the fact about two-thirds of those infected through heterosexual sex were women; there is clearly a wider issue that goes beyond sexuality.

Attacking people and using statistics to restrict human rights is not why these statistics are put together. The International Journal of Epidemiology released a statement criticizing the way they have been used;

Overall, we do not condone the use of our research in a manner that restricts the political or human rights of gay and bisexual men or any other group[5]

It is clear that there is still an on-going risk of HIV infection within the MSM community, but this is something that they acknowledge and are working to educate and protect themselves. As Christians, we should be joining in with reaching out to them and supporting them in this, encouraging all people to keep themselves safe when having sex. It should also be encouraging us to support the LGBT community, not beating them down. The larger debates over whether any kind of gay sex is sinful and whether God will bless same sex marriages will continue to rage on. At all times though, we should be mindful of our words and ensuring that science is used to help, not to harm.

Not unlike what we should be doing with the Bible.

 

References:

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/HIVFactSheets/Epidemic/Transmission.htm

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/apr/22/gay-man-dislikes-anal-sex

[3] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs360/en/index.html

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/08/south-africa-violence-against-women_n_2837804.html

[5] International Journal of Epidemiology Volume 30, Issue 6 Page 1499 Gay life expectancy revisited [Available from http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/6/1499.full]

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