Financial Ally to Evil

U.S. money flows into polluted HIV-prevention plans, all the way to Uganda

Televangelist Pat Robertson’s claim that the Haitian earthquake was divine retribution for a two-century-old pact with the devil, even as he purported to raise relief funds, suggests many offensive things: that Haitians should have accepted enslavement by the French; that any spirit invoked by a non-Christian religion must be the devil; that Robertson’s approach to religion, which ascribes natural disasters to an angry god, is superior to Voodoo; and that by calling his personal demon Jesus, Robertson makes it so.

Unfortunately, Robertson has many fellow wolves in shepherd’s clothing, and your taxes help subsidize their bloody mischief.

On Jan. 13, the Council for Global Equality and the Center for American Progress released the report, ”How Ideology Trumped Science: Why PEPFAR [the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] has Failed to Meet its Potential,” written by Scott Evertz, who directed the Office of National AIDS Policy during President George W. Bush’s first term. Evertz describes how conservative ideology has hampered outreach to underserved populations; prevented a clear focus on men who have sex with men; excluded programs targeting prostitutes and injection drug users; and short-shrifted basic sex education such as how to use condoms properly.

Uganda received over $280 million in PEPFAR funding in 2008. Ugandan leaders welcome this Western aid even as they denounce homosexuality as a Western import. In fact, ethnographic studies have found indigenous forms of homosexuality throughout Africa. What the colonial powers introduced was not homosexuality but the persecution of people for it. The existing Ugandan law criminalizing ”carnal acts against the order of nature” stems not from anything African but from the old British penal code, long defunct in Britain but still on the books in many former colonies.

The sponsor of the pending bill, Ugandan politician David Bahati, is a member of the well-connected American fundamentalist organization known as The Family. The inspiration to ”clarify” the law on homosexuality came from American evangelicals Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer, who participated in a seminar last March in Kampala, peddling ”ex-gay” junk science. These men now pretend to be shocked by the proposed death penalty for HIV-positive gays who have sex.

Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, writes in the current issue of The Public Eye magazine, ”Ironically enough, although American conservatives repeatedly accuse progressives of being imperialist, it is their dealings with Africa that are extremely imperialistic. Their flow of funds creates a form of clientelism, with the expectation that the recipients toe an ideological line.”

Conservatives, however, do not currently control the U.S. government. In November, after gay conservative James Kirchick called on President Obama to withhold PEPFAR money to Uganda over the anti-gay bill, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, Ambassador Eric Goosby, refused to intervene. While acknowledging to Newsweek that criminalizing gay people would only ”push the behavior underground,” he said that withholding the funds ”would do more harm than good.” His role, he said, ”is not to tell a country how to put forward their legislation. But I will engage them in conversation….”

Goosby failed to say how the administration will respond if science and sweet reason prove unpersuasive. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, ”We have to stand against any efforts to marginalize and criminalize and penalize members of the LGBT community worldwide,” but specified no action.

In his Nobel lecture, President Obama declared, ”Evil does exist in the world,” and said negotiations are an insufficient response. He was justifying the use of force. The Uganda case, by contrast, demands only an end to American taxpayer-funded misinformation that hampers HIV prevention and enables the brutal scapegoating of gay people. We’re waiting to hear from you, Mr. President.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on ‘Salon.com‘ and the Independent Gay Forum (indegayforum.org). He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

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