Report Blames Churches for AIDS Rise in South
Special Report - July 30, 2008
A new report from the Southern AIDS Coalition blames “social conservatism” and “the church,” at least partially, for the alarmingly high rates of HIV/AIDS in the Southern states. The “Southern States Manifesto, Update 2008: HIV/AIDS in the South,” which was released by the Birmingham-based advocacy group on July 21, highlights the increasing number of Southern Americans who are living and dying from AIDS. According to the report, although deaths from AIDS decreased in every other area of the nation between 2001 and 2005, AIDS deaths increased in the South during this time period. Among the facts about HIV/AIDS in the South documented by the report:
• Half of all AIDS deaths in 2005 occurred in the South.
• Four in 10 Americans with AIDS live in the South.
• Of the 20 metropolitan areas with the highest rates of new AIDS cases in 2006, 16 were in the South.
• In North Carolina, 11,760 adults and adolescents were living with HIV, and 8,463 adults and adolescents were living with AIDS in 2006.
• The estimated rate (per 100,000 population) of persons living with HIV in North Carolina in 2006 was 160.0, and the estimated rate of persons living with AIDS was 115.6.
As to the reasons for the high rates of HIV/AIDS in the South, the Coalition explains that overall health in the South is poor, and that high rates of poverty and unemployment, as well as lack of insurance, probably play a role. But it also puts at least part of the blame on the “stigma” resulting from social conservatism and the church. “Social conservatism is more pronounced in the South compared to the rest of the nation,” the report states. “Men who have sex with men (MSM) may be less likely to be open about their sexual behaviors in such communities and may concurrently be sexually involved with women, who in turn may be unaware of the risk posed to them by their partners MSM behaviors.” As for the church’s role, the report notes, “Anecdotal evidence across the South indicates that the prominence of the Church, with its sexual prohibitions, intensifies fear of stigma.” It also states: “The moral compass of the nation and the South’s specific cultural underpinnings include fundamentalist beliefs, such as blaming those who are diagnosed with HIV disease due to sinful behaviors, such as MSM and/or those who use or abuse drugs. These ideologies have created an environment that is indifferent at best and hostile at worst to the plight of men, women and children alike, regardless of how they contracted the disease.”
The “Southern States Manifesto, 2008” concludes by outlining its goals in the coming three to five years, including advocating for “safe, decent and affordable housing” for those suffering with HIV/AIDS, and reducing new infections of the disease through “acute and routine screening to ensure the identification of people who are unaware of their” HIV status, and “age-appropriate education and effective prevention interventions.”
“We should all be deeply concerned about the alarmingly high rates of HIV/AIDS in the South, including in North Carolina, and we can agree with the Southern AIDS Coalition that there is much work to be done in the years ahead,” said Matt Lytle, Director of Research for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “But it is absolutely erroneous to blame the faith community in the South for this problem. The real problem is unnatural and risky sexual behavior, which leads to HIV/AIDS and other STDs. If any progress is to be made in fighting AIDS, we need to address such dangerous behavior.
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.