Sex, Drugs, Hiv/Aids
Glenn Curran RN, RMN,
B Nur (Hons.)
expressed in this paper belong to the author, who acknowledges the
contribution of colleagues from the Tasmanian Sexual Health HIV/AIDS
Program and those HIV positive people whom I have met and worked with.
provides a basic presentation of facts about HIV prevalence,
transmission principles, prevention strategies and issues. The second
part begins to explore the relationship between HIV/AIDS, homosexuality
There is no doubt
that HIV is a major threat to human life and health world wide (Croft,
1992; Mann, et al. 1992; World Health Organisation, Jan 1994).
Presently, global HIV infection stands at approx. 14 million people with
projections up to 108 million by the Year 2000 (Australian HIV
Surveillance Update, April 1994; Chew, et al., 1994:22; Hatcher, et al.,
HIV/AIDS is a
major feminist concern. Greene (1993:67) states that "[w]orldwide, women
now account for 40% of AIDS cases; about 10% are children borne to
infected mothers." HIV threatens women in three ways: She may become HIV
positive and develop AIDS; She may pass HIV infection to her baby who
may develop AIDS; and She is the primary carer who will carry the burden
of AIDS (Panos Institute, 1990). HIV/AIDS significantly impacts on the
health of women (Berer & Ray, 1993).
HIV is a virus
that destroys the immune system of humans. Immunologists, (Croft, 1993;
Greene, 1993; Levy, 1993; Pantaleo, et al., 1993), agree that HIV
infection will nearly always lead onto Acquired Immunodeficiency
Syndrome, although Levy (1993) documents long term survivors.
discriminate between race, age, sex, intelligence or religious values.
HIV is primarily spread by unprotected sex, injecting drug use and
vertical transmission (mother to baby and breastfeeding). Global HIV
transmission is predominantly heterosexual (75%). The Australian HIV
Surveillance Report (May, 1994) suggests that heterosexual transmission
will rise to 90% by the year 2000.
At this stage,
prevention strategies are the only way to reduce HIV infection. Anti
viral drugs slow HIV progression but not prevent it and a vaccine is not
expected before the Year 2000. The HIV prevention message includes:
celibacy or abstinence, long term monogamous relationships, safer sex
practices, limiting the number of sexual partners; don’t use drugs, if
injecting drugs use sterile equipment and don’t share equipment and
infection control procedures. Successful HIV prevention and harm
minimisation strategies are supported by; politicians, law makers,
police, health care workers, educators, activists, media, religious
institutions, parents and individuals.
It is an
understatement to say that HIV cause much heartache. For HIV positive
people the issues facing them are enormous and unfortunately very real (Okeefe
and Walker, 1992). For some, HIV has been a positive experience. For the
vast majority, being HIV positive means discrimination, rejection,
loneliness, unemployment, stigmatisation, fear, and physical, emotional
and social abuse.
begins to examine HIV/AIDS, sexuality, religion, personal values, morals
and ethical behaviour. When I accepted the HIV/AIDS Clinical Nurse
Manager position, I was told by well meaning Bahá’í friends that
HIV/AIDS was not a good area to work in. It was somehow unclean. It
appeared that by association, I became a sex worker, injecting drug user
and bisexual. Discrimination occurs because of a lack of knowledge and
understanding and it is this concern that prompted this presentation.
my work is challenging beyond description as HIV tends to funnel
society’s concerns and phobias into a concentrated reality. Kubler Ross
(1987) refers to AIDS "... as our largest sociopolitical issue." HIV has
exposed my discomfort with sexuality and caused a reflection of values
and beliefs. I now find myself working in the grey area of people’s
sexuality where there are no clear cut answers. One example of this grey
area is the provocative link between HIV and homosexuality.
In Tasmania, HIV
is synonymous with homosexuality and gay law reform which has provoked
three major community responses. The first response supports
homosexuality as a basic human right between two consenting adults
(Kirby, May 1994). Secondly, the political response has developed into
an argument over state and federal rights. The last response is
religious, where groups claim homosexuality is a sin, a violation of
God’s law, something to be punished (McKendry, 1992).
The last response
is interesting in that it uncovers the longstanding difficulty western
religion has with sexuality where sexuality and religion are two
powerful, often conflicting influences in society (Foucault, 1978). This
paper explores the relationship between religion, homosexuality and HIV
by three questions. What is the religious response to homosexuality and
HIV? What is the response of the Bahá’í Faith institutions to
homosexuality and HIV? And, what is the personal Bahá’í response to
homosexuality and HIV?
What is the
religious response to homosexuality and HIV?
responded to HIV and homosexuality in a complex and varied way.
Kolwalewski, cited by McKendry (1992:22) suggests that Christianity has
developed three broad responses to HIV/AIDS which include AIDS as a
divine punishment, AIDS can somehow be separated from sexual morality to
allow a rational response and lastly, there is a qualified compassion
for the sinner while hating the sin of homosexuality. At worst,
religious platforms see HIV/AIDS as a divine punishment and become the
source of fear, hate, stigmatisation, discrimination and bigotry, where
education and prevention strategies are opposed (Davenport-Hines, 1990;
Green, 1992; McKendry, 1992).
enlightened religious and community responses to HIV/AIDS appear to be
characterized by open discussion, non-judgemental attitudes,
understanding, support, care and compassion (Ross, 1993; Shelby Spong,
What is the
Bahá’í Faith response to homosexuality and HIV?
There appears to
be no official Bahá’í response to HIV/AIDS. Given the global impact of
HIV, it is suggested that Bahá’ís begin a series of consultations to
determine an approach to this major issue. On homosexuality, Bahá’u’lláh
prohibits all homosexual relations in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. The Universal
House of Justice comments:
teachings on sexual morality centre on marriage and the family...
No matter how
devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let
it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say it is an ideal is no
excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh, and
homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against
of Justice, 1992:223)
institutions manage homosexuality like adultery, alcohol & illicit drug
use, by referral, counsel and sanction. The institutions (not
individuals) provide repeated counsel to the Bahá’í to alter their
activity, and his or her administrative rights can be removed. The House
of Justice has the authority to fine a person for their actions.
What is the
individual Bahá’í response to homosexuality and HIV?
It is argued that
individual Bahá’ís respond to homosexuality and HIV/AIDS in a different
manner to Bahá’í institutions. There are few documented instances to
demonstrate individual Bahá’ís attitudes and values to homosexuality and
HIV/AIDS. In this section, there is a brief examination of Bahá’ís
involved with HIV/AIDS awareness education, two separate Bahá’í articles
about HIV and homosexuality, and the author’s personal/professional
views as an individual response. While these examples are limited in
number they indicate how individuals are responding to homosexuality and
In the first
example, the convenor of the Queensland Multicultural HIV/AIDS Awareness
Program praised the contribution of religious groups including the
Bahá’ís because of their willingness to take on the important, yet
difficult issues. The Bahá’ís informed themselves about the issues, and
in doing so, helped create a unique experience where co-religionists
shared common ground. Jacki Hauff reported a practical approach to
overcome the personal, moral and religious conflict with HIV:
perhaps, conflict of religion among participants was almost entirely
avoided. Participants were asked to keep their personal beliefs, morals
and attitudes to themselves, and to respect the beliefs of others
without moral or personal judgement.(Hauff, 1994:9)
example is a letter to the Bulletin by Jill Wiese (1994), who writes
passionately about HIV/AIDS, spiritual healing, physical suffering and a
non discriminatory virus. Jill suggests that the "... spiritual disease
whose symptoms are that of gross discrimination, a fostering and feeding
of prejudice, hatred, disunity and unkindness." Jill concludes by
praying for the spiritual qualities to help us overcome the loneliness,
isolation and discrimination that HIV positive people experience. I
commend this approach as a way for Bahá’ís to be involved with HIV/AIDS.
The third example
refers to recently advertised information in the Australian Bahá’í
Bulletin (May 1994, p.2) about homosexuality. I was dismayed to read the
paper "Psychological and Spiritual Aspects of Male Homosexuality" (?
author, Special Issue on Health, Canadian ABS, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1981).
This paper written by a Bahá’í promotes a rhetoric condemning the
homosexual as an evil, psychologically unstable, anti-life individual.
The article is academically weak, the references are suspect and the
research is limited. What is disturbing is that the National Office is
tacitly endorsing a publication whose basic argument is similar to that
used by Christian fundamentalist, to justify their vilification,
persecution and discrimination of homosexuals and HIV positive people.
In Tasmania for instance, this type of emotional argument leads to a
negative and destructive response in the community and tends to polarise
attitudes into right/wrong and good/evil decisions. The construction of
this paper shows the problems of individuals interpreting the writings
and may give an insight why some Bahá’ís have a fear of homosexuals. It
appears that when individuals use the writings in a sanctimonious way
(holier than thou attitude), the result tends to be at the expense of
another person’s behaviour. Whereas, when Bahá’í Institutions apply the
Writings, it is done so as part of a dynamic consultative process that
aims to educate, guide and inspire a person to teach, encourage
spiritual development and behaviour change, apply warnings and
sanctions; and provide protection for the Faith.
The last example
allows the author to explore homosexuality and HIV by drawing on the
broader moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions. Do I have the right to
make a moral judgement about the actions of another person? In answer, I
remember Jesus’s admonition about casting the metaphorical stone without
first examining one’s own behaviour. I believe this spiritual teaching
remains true. There is no basis for an individual to judge, criticise or
condemn another person. To often we tend to confuse another’s action as
a threat to our belief and value system. As a health care worker, I am
comfortable working with heterosexuals, gays, bisexuals, sex workers and
injecting drug users because there is a moral, ethical and spiritual
responsibility to connect with the spiritual nature of each person.
writers (Cole and Dryden, 1993; LeVay and Hamer, 1994; Llewellyn-Jones,
1989; Rollins, 1989; Todd, 1992) suggest homosexuality varies between 1
- 10% of any given population. Bahá’ís who are gay, sexually active, or
injecting drugs are also dealing with the guilt and hypocrisy of being
shunned and condemned by the pious. It is difficult for individuals to
carry the weight of the Bahá’í expectation to be perfect. At a time when
people want and need support, unconditional love and spiritual care,
they face possible rejection by a fearful, denying community.
In summary, there
are many responses to homosexuality and HIV/AIDS in the Bahá’í
community. It appears that when Bahá’ís are personally involved with
HIV/AIDS, they begin to understand the broader issues of
antidiscrimination, compassion, love, respect and the need for open and
In conclusion, it
is a fact that a Bahá’í lifestyle would prevent HIV transmission but it
is unrealistic to think that the application of sanctions are the only
answer at this particular time in history. Bahá’í institutions need to
respond to HIV/AIDS and be mindful of the responsibility not to cause
greater harm by promoting attitudes and actions that foster and prolong
this pandemic. Experience has confirmed there are no simplistic
solutions to this complex global problem, only more HIV/AIDS situations.
I hope this
information has been challenging. HIV/AIDS sits in the difficult area of
sexuality, personal values and religious beliefs. During the
International Year of the Family please remember that HIV positive
people are part of our family. Consider all HIV positive persons as our
brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and
friends. Please give them the love and respect we all need and deserve.
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