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Azads remarks on homosexuality spark outrage

New Delhi: Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s controversial comments that homosexuality is “unnatural” and a “disease” sparked an outrage among rights activists and the gay community.

Protests were also held on the steps of the Town Hall in Bangalore against Mr. Azad’s remarks with several activists carrying the multi-colour rainbow flag which symbolises gay culture. Some activists said Mr. Azad’s assessment was “unscientific and irrational” and stressed the need for a change in the community mindset.

There was particular anger that the Minister’s comments were made at a meeting of officials tasked with promoting and enforcing HIV/AIDS prevention policy at a grassroots level, as various health professionals scrambled to douse the controversy. Demands were also made that Mr. Azad clarify his statement.

“I would say that he was thinking of his constituency while he was airing his narrow comments,” said Anjali Gopalan who heads the NAZ Foundation, a rights group that promotes equal rights for homosexuals and works with HIV positive people.

Mr. Azad on Monday described homosexuality as a “disease” and regretted that despite being “unnatural”, it now afflicts a substantial number of people in India.

“The disease of ‘Men having Sex with Men’ (MSM), which was found more in the developed world, has now unfortunately come to our country and there is a substantial number of such people in India”, Mr. Azad had said speaking at a convention on HIV/AIDS.

Ms. Gopalan, while noting that Mr. Azad was addressing a meeting that included zila parishad chairpersons and mayors, said, “What a golden opportunity he had to talk about fighting discrimination and he goes ahead with a statement that jeopardises it.”

Ashok Row Kavi, a gay rights activist, said, “It is pretty bad but what can we do. We can’t do anything to change people’s mentality.”

An official associated with the United Nations said, “His reaction is bound to undo much of the effort we have put in to spread information to fight against discrimination.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council passed the human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity resolution on June 17, 2011 that called for an end to sexuality discrimination worldwide and to recognise it as a priority for the U.N.

On July 2, 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down provisions of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises gay sex among consenting adults, saying it violated the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

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