The PrEP debate shows how far we have yet to come in tackling homophobia

Branding PrEP a “lifestyle drug” and the homophobic nature of the argument against it highlight the very thing we must tackle in the debate.

Awful Homophobia from the Daily Mail and the drug, PrEP | Source: Pink News

Once again the gay community in England’s eye was turned to the National Health Service’s decision not to fund the roll out of PrEP this week, an arguably game changing drug in the fight against HIV and AIDS when the High Court ruled that the NHS was the responsible party to fund the drug, and not Local Authorities. The decision was quickly seized upon by the media and by many on social networks as a negative thing.

The Daily Mail, the infamous hate rag minority groups have to see on shelves every day, declared that the drug was a ‘lifestyle drug’, while Channel 5 declared the worst headline of all major news outlets – stating that the NHS “must fund a drug for men who simply refuse to wear condoms”.

Both of these lines are homophobic and highlight the dire nature of our media when it comes to dealing with LGBTQ issues. However, both responses also undermine the great use PrEP could help with preventing the spread of HIV among nurses, for example, who are at risk when treating HIV+ patients! especially those that do not know their status. HIV is a virus and a condition that affects 103,700 people (2014) in the UK alone.

These people aren’t just LGBT, they’re straight too. There are women, white people, black people, people of all religions and none and social backgrounds and none who have HIV. PrEP could seriously help reduce that number, and branding it as a ‘gay lifestyle drug’ isn’t going to help tackle the disease, and it simply exacerbates the homophobia that still exists in our society.

But what’s probably even worse, is the arguments people use against why the NHS should roll PrEP out on a free or prescription basis. Obviously there are scientific arguments for and against, and as I am not a scientist I won’t comment on these arguments. I along with most people will look at the social arguments.

Multiple people have said that allowing gay and bisexual men to access PrEP would lead to greater ‘promiscuous’ behaviour and a more ‘dangerous sex life’. Despite what some men may say, access to preventative medicine against HIV is not going to lead to gay orgy parties and bareback sex becoming the norm. Condom usage among gay and bisexual men is higher than the general population as a whole, and while some LGBT men have worried that men may view it as an ‘excuse’ to not use condoms, people who make PrEP and those that advocate are clear in that it should be used in all possible cases with condoms.

The idea that an individual would dislike a preventative medicine because it would make gay men more promiscuous is also deeply, at heart, homophobic. It assumes that given the opportunities gay and bisexual men, above straight people, would seek more dangerous sexual fulfilment just because they are gay and bisexual. The argument assumes that gay and bisexual men are deviant, and that endorsing the behaviour is bad for society.

There is just simply no evidence to suggest the use of PrEP would increase ‘risky’ sex, and indeed the majority of studies show the treatment as most effective with condoms. Even if there was evidence to suggest otherwise, there’s reason that an individual would have the right to criticise any individual for their own sexual behaviour. What an individual does with theirselves in the bedroom is no business of anyone except them and their partner(s). To suggest because someone is gay or bisexual that we should discourage said risky behaviour is overtly homophobic – regardless of whether it is a straight or fellow LGBT person that says it.

The argument that it is cheaper to ‘just use a condom’ also falls down to scrutiny. Although not a typical homophobic argument, it shows a lack of care for some people. The argument of “just use a condom, it’s cheaper for everyone” doesn’t protect people when the condom breaks. It doesn’t protect anyone who is abused, sexually assaulted, and it certainly doesn’t protect nurses on hospital wards at risk of HIV infection. Condoms don’t protect everyone, and in the cases that a condom isn’t used, PrEP can be extremely helpful.

Dianne Abbot, the Labour Shadow Health Secretary summed up the final point I will make quite well.

“If it was any other life-saving drug the media would be applauding the campaigners who won the court victory. Instead they are claiming that gay men are taking NHS funding that properly belongs to more ‘deserving’ sick people. And homophobic assertions are made about gay men’s lives.
“It all shows how much homophobia there is, just below the surface, in society.” Dianne Abbot MP, Labour Health Spokesperson

She sums it up better than I could. If it was any other drug for a treatment that did not disproportionately affect LGBTQ people, the media and the homophobes would rejoice in victory for people. Instead, those very same people are arguing about the treatment because they simply do not want to legitimise gay sex and gay relationships, which they view as abnormal and somehow more risky.

If anything the PrEP debate has shown just how far we, sadly, we have still got to go to tackle homophobia in society. Regardless of what happens with PrEP on the English NHS, we must tackle the homophobia that has been stirred up around the treatment.

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