July 6, 2011 11:13 AM EDT
Indian Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has come under fire for describing homosexuality as an 'unnatural disease' from the west at an HIV / Aids conference in Delhi on Monday (July 4). Anjali Gopalan, who heads the Naz Foundation, a rights group that works with HIV-positive people and advocates equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, said on Tuesday (July 5) the comments represented a regression in attitudes. "It just seems like every time you are able to take one step forward, you are put back ten steps and it's becoming tiring to carry on like this," she said. She described the comments as a missed opportunity to fight discrimination. "There were mayors, Zilla Parishad guys, health ministers from different states. What an opportunity, golden opportunity to lose, to talk about fighting stigma and discrimination. Instead he has gone and reinforced every negative thinking that he possibly could have," she said. Homosexuals have attained a level of acceptance in India, with gay pride parades in major cities. The United Nations AIDS agency estimates 2.5 million Indians are living with HIV. In 2009, New Delhi's high court decriminalized same-sex relationships in a landmark ruling, which triggered a religious outcry in the conservative community.