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Anti-gay remarks by India’s health minister rebuked

NEW DELHI, India – The controversial and homophobic remarks by India’s health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has drawn widespread criticism by LGBT civil rights supporters.

Azad was speaking at a meeting of elected officials from around India on the need for open talk about sexual issues when he strayed into considerable controversy in comments on sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM).

He stressed the urgency for preventative efforts for MSM, but didn’t stop there.

"This kind of act is unnatural and it should not be indulged in. MSM is a high-risk group and it is necessary to reach out to them to prevent the spread of HIV. We can track female sex workers but it is almost impossible to identify men who have sex with men. We need to take the message to them. They should also take precaution to prevent the spread of infection," Azad said.

The health minister also blamed woman sex workers.

"If they become HIV infected, they spread the infection to many men who go to them."

Both comments brought condemnation from activists in India.

"I strongly disagree with the minister's comment. Gay sex is not unnatural. It is a matter of one's sexual orientation. If out of 100 children, five are lefthanded, do you call them unnatural?" Ashok Row Kavi from Hamsafar Trust was quoted in India Today. "The health minister should not be judgmental."

Anjali Gopalan from Naaz Foundation said the health minister had no understanding of sexuality.

"The minister should limit himself to speaking on issues related to health. Homosexual sex is as natural as heterosexual sex. We are a democracy. Gays should have the same rights as heterosexuals such as the right to marriage, adoption and inheritance," Gopalan told India Today.

Gopalan also blasted the minster's comment that sex workers infect men.

"How do sex workers get infected? They are infected by men. Besides, it is biologically easier for a man to infect a woman than the other way around. Women are at a higher risk of getting infected," she said.

"Most sex workers use condoms. The problem arises when men have sex outside of marriage without protection."