Originally published December 3, 2009.
AIDS Awareness Month began with World AIDS Day on Tuesday. The color red was everywhere, and discussion ensued on promises and goals for the year to come.
But in the HIV/AIDS conversation, no topic has been hotter in the last few weeks than Uganda. A country hit hard by HIV/AIDS, Uganda has benefited from U.S. funding in its struggle against the disease since President Bush set up the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in 2003. Ugandan Christian ministries have also increasingly received financial contributions from conservative American anti-LGBT figures like Pastor Rick Warren.
The relationships of people like Warren, Scott Lively, and Don Schmierer with Ugandan churches aren’t the only cause of extreme homophobia in the country. But their influence, coupled with continued U.S. financial support to combat HIV/AIDS, has enabled and encouraged Ugandan leaders to target LGBT individuals as scapegoats.
Ugandan law already criminalizes same-sex sexual activity. But as far back as mid-October, Ugandan legislators have been considering a law that would make “repeat offenses” and sexual interaction with HIV-positive individuals punishable by death.
Somehow, it’s taken until the end of November for most people in the U.S. to even begin talking about this despicable legislation. More importantly, the person who should be talking about it—Rick Warren, someone with undeniable financial and ideological involvement in the development of the law—refuses to “take sides” in any discussion of the issue. Even Lively, author of The Pink Swastika (which likens being gay or lesbian to Nazism) has suggested that this new law is a bit extreme.
In addition to being a flagrant violation of human rights and essentially legalizing genocide, Uganda’s proposed law reinforces attitudes that impede the ability to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. It mistakenly singles out the LGBT community as a huge cause of HIV/AIDS. It also prevents any LGBT individuals from seeking information about safe sex in a same-sex context and from seeking treatment if HIV-positive.
In addition, the law would attempt to force others to inform on people they believe to be gay or lesbian within 24 hours of suspected same-sex sexual interaction. If they don’t, they could face up to three years in jail. If this doesn’t sound like a witch hunt, I don’t know what does.
In this particular circumstance, though, something can still be done.
First, Rick Warren needs to come clean. At the moment, his money speaks for him.
His current choice to keep mum about the subject demonstrates quite clearly that he supports legalized genocide in Uganda because he can’t openly fund its promotion in the United States. If this isn’t the case, then he needs to stand up and say it. Otherwise, he might as well be as ragingly bigoted as Fred Phelps instead of hiding behind his false “respectful evangelical” demeanor.
Second, the United States needs to step up to the plate and engage with the Ugandan government about this appalling proposal. We cannot continue to fund efforts to treat and stop HIV/AIDS in a country which dumps undue blame on a group of people and hopes to wipe them out. It must be communicated that we will not fund fatal prejudice.
Anyone’s individual feelings about the LGBT community aside, it is imperative to protect their rights as human beings. While we argue about LGBT individuals’ rights as American citizens to marry, to live free from discrimination, and whether it’s okay for Adam Lambert to kiss another man on television, the developing situation in Uganda is a question of life or death.
In making commitments for the coming year to do more in the fight against HIV/AIDS, I cannot imagine anything greater than dedication to the protection of the lives of those being unduly persecuted for the existence of a disease that does not discriminate in its choice of victims. We need to take responsibility for a problem aggravated to this point by our own countrymen.
Chelsea is a senior in LAS.