Recently, the non-profit organisation Action for AIDS came out in support of repealing Section 377A of the Penal Code due to the negative impact it says that the law has had on HIV prevention efforts.
Following that, a member of the public wrote into Today Online to refute that claim. The author, Tan Meng Yaw, cited a survey done in 2009 to 2010 that analysed responses from over 4,000 men who have sex with men (MSM) from ASEAN countries. In that survey, the author pointed out, no mention was made of 377A being a barrier for those seeking treatment or screening of HIV. Therefore, the author concluded that repealing the law and encouraging more HIV testing are two separate issues.
“HIV, especially among men who have sex with men, is an area of great concern. Efforts should continue to be directed at the real public health issues at hand, rather than Section 377A,” the author wrote.
President for Action for AIDS, Prof Roy Chan, has come out with his own letter to Today Online in response to the above author’s argument that HIV prevention and 377A are not related.
Prof Chan says that the survey cited by the author was “a regional internet-based survey on socio-demographic and behavioural correlates of HIV testing, with special interest on possible applications of internet-based interventions.” In short, the respondents of that survey made no mention of 377A because it was not included in the list of possible responses as that was not the focus of the survey.
Prof Chan pointed out that 377A was not a factor in the survey simply because it is not applicable to most of the 10 ASEAN countries included in the survey. Only former British colonies – Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore – inherited 377A in their penal codes from their former rulers.
The survey in question was also not designed to address homophobia and the impact of that, both internal and external, on the respondent’s access to HIV testing.
Drawing from his own experience, Prof Chan said that many gay men and MSM are marginalised and feel discriminated against by the society because of Section 377A which fuels homophobia. He also emphasised that there are already countless studies that consistently find homophobia to be a significant contributor to the spread of HIV as many gay men and MSM delay seeking treatment and testing for fear of discrimination.
“In the broader context, Section 377A also weighs down HIV control. It is a major structural barrier that stands in the way of efforts to end HIV in Singapore.”