The annual International Day Against Homophobia on May 17 offers an opportunity to reflect on the state of the worldwide gay rights movement. Jesus Aguais, an AQ Innovator (Fall 2007) and executive director of New York-based Aid for AIDS International, talks with AQ Online about homophobia's implications on HIV/AIDS and Latin America's recent progress in gay rights.
Interview by Ryan Berger
Americas Quarterly Online: How does homophobia affect progress in HIV/AIDS awareness?
Aguais: It is a big issue in not just the Americas, but the United States as well. In terms of HIV, there is a general perception that the virus exclusively affects the gay population who in turn do not take enough precautions to prevent it. This undoubtedly presents challenges in combating such a misperception. I believe homophobia comes from ingrained religious beliefs, but there are strategies that we are exploring to minimize homophobia. The most useful strategies relate to youth. Aid for AIDS has undergone an initiative called ¿Cuánto sabes de VIH/SIDA? (How much do you know about HIV/AIDS?), and has also sponsored programs on sexual and reproductive health.
AQ: What can be done to get policymakers to focus more on the need to promote more attention to AIDS?
Aguais: Regrettably, AIDS is not perceived as a legitimate threat anymore—so lawmakers are no longer aggressively committed to giving it proper attention. It is time for the AIDS community to recalibrate the message. I am pleased that international institutions like the United Nations are taking up the issue. Government and society must stand together.