‘If you can’t help, don’t harm’: Kerala queer community angered by World AIDS Day poster

The homophobic posters that have faced the wrath of queer activists in Kerala surfaced near the Kanakakkunnu Palace in Thiruvananthapuram. 

BySreerag PS

Published Dec 01, 2022 | 6:06 PMUpdatedDec 02, 2022 | 3:15 PM

KSACS poster calling gay men HIV-prone

The Kerala State Aids Control Society (KSACS) has come under fire for posters it put up in Thiruvananthapuram, on Wednesday, 30 November, claiming that gay men are prone to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Members of the queer community in Kerala vehemently opposed and condemned the posters, which were put up on the occasion of World AIDS Day, which falls on 1 December every year.

The homophobic posters surfaced near the Kanakakkunnu Palace in Thiruvananthapuram.

“Secure your relationships, gay men are at higher risk of HIV infection. Know the status,” read the rough translation of one of the posters written in Malayalam.

The posters also carried logos of KSACS, the “Know your HIV Status” scheme, and the Kerala government.

‘Don’t stigmatise gay men’

Anil A, a queer ally who has been working in the area for decades, told South First that although KSACS is an organisation responsible for taking care of the sexual health of people, it was not doing its job.

Anil, who also runs a children’s home named Chilla that takes care of marginalised and stigmatised children, alleged that it was KSACS that created the MSM category — which denotes “men having sex with men”. —

He claimed that this terminology was not used in practice by those who study sexuality or gender.

“An organisation that is run on the state’s money is responsible for curbing the stigma on sexuality. It has networks in all districts. If it can’t help these communities, what it can at least do is not act against them. This statement’s sole intention is to malign gay men and it serves no other purpose,” said Anil.

He also alleged that despite KSACS having a committee to formulate the material to be circulated in public, it does not consult the community or conduct an ethical review.

“If we question this practice, it will say that it is including community members in its projects. But these people do not become a part of the decision-making process. They work at the bottom level. Most of them are contract employees who work for very low wages,” said Anil.

He also claimed that there are numerous organisations for gay, lesbian, and transgender people in Kerala, and they even drive the conversations on issues at the national level, but they are not consulted by KSACS.

Sexuality not a definer: Expert 

Dr AK Jayasree, one of the first people to work on HIV-related projects in Kerala in the late 1990s told South First she considered the statement from KSACS absolutely wrong, and that one of the important missions of KSACS was “Zero Stigma and Zero Discrimination”.

“How can they be sure that these men do not have sex with women? Also, they have not categorised transgender people. There will be people within the transgender community itself who prefer to have sexual relations with males as well as females,” explained Jayashree.

“We cannot categorise people based on their sexuality. A person’s sexuality is a personal choice and we cannot predict a person’s sexual orientation. We can only categorise the spread of STDs, like HIV, based on those who indulge in safe sex and unsafe sex, not by comparing the sexual orientation of human beings,” she added.

Jayasree also stated that in the places she works, most cases witnessed are seen in heterosexual people. She added that as there was no data on the denominator population, there was no point in relying on any kind of statistics.

Also Read: How Andhra Pradesh curbed the number of AIDS cases in the state

Don’t equip homophobes: Activist

Muhammed Unais, a queer activist, also viewed the poster put out by KSACS as homophobic. According to him, KSACS should ideally say whoever does not practise safe sex can get STDs and work towards reducing the number of AIDS patients.

“If you see the poster, it gives the impression that HIV infection is mostly among gay men. Homophobia is already prevailing in Kerala. But still, gay men and women are gradually gaining visibility in the state. Posters like this would equip the homophobic groups to further oppose queer communities,” explained Unais.

In July, posters were put up allegedly by a religious group in the Alappuzha town of Kerala claiming that the gay and bisexual communities were responsible for the spread of Monkeypox in the state.

South First’s calls to the KSACS office were unanswered.