3 years, 450 lashes for Saudi man seeking men on Twitter

 

Scene at a training session of the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Scene at a training session of the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Gay Asia News reports:

“A man has been sentenced to three years in prison and 450 lashes by a court in Saudi Arabia for using his Twitter account to meet with gay men.

“The 24-year-old unnamed was arrested after he posted several tweets calling for same-sex relations and expressing his readiness to meet gay men, according to a Gulf News report that cited local daily Al Watan.”

In its account of the same incident, IB Times states:

“Saudi Arabia’s religious police — the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — used an undercover agent to apprehend the man. His 450 lashes will be administered in 15 sessions. …

“Saudi Arabia is governed under a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and homosexuality is illegal in the country, as it is in the neighbouring Gulf Cooperation Council states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Qatar  — due to host the 2022 World Cup Finals. Any man convicted of same-sex intercourse can also face life imprisonment or death by beheading and crucifixion under strict Sharia law. …

“Ironically, the country’s laws forbidding the sexes to mingle in public is believed to encourage Luwat (homosexual intercourse) because it is far easier to meet people of the same sex. Some areas of cities like Jeddah and Riyadh are said to have a number of ‘cruising areas’ and gay-friendly discos and coffee bars. However in 2002 three men were said to have been beheaded in the country for homosexuality.”

Posted in Middle East / North Africa, Trials / punishments | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Cameroon villagers attack gay ‘demon’ — and seek his land

By Erin Royal Brokovitch

Un puits à Leboudi (Photo par Naëlle Le Moal)

A well in Leboudi (Photo by Naëlle Le Moal)

The author of this article is an LGBT rights activist in Cameroon who writes under a pseudonym.

 

Location of the Lékié region in central Cameroon.  (Map courtesy of Wikipedia)

Location of the Lékié region in Cameroon. (Map courtesy of Wikipedia)

Two years ago, René M. opened a café on a small parcel of land that he bought in the village of Leboudi, located in the Lékié region of central Cameroon,  about 30 kilometers from the capital city, Yaoundé.

Since then, some of the Leboudi villagers  have been trying to throw him out and take over his land.

Three weeks after René opened his new business, in September 2012, a mob of 25 people showed up at the café, threatening him and accusing him of being homosexual.

The group, led by a man in the attire of a presidential policeman, hauled René to the offices of the leader of the Leboui region. At the moment, that official was absent, so the crowd then took René to the Nkolbisson police station in Yaoundé.

The accusation against him: attempted homosexuality and corruption of youth. The basis of that accusation was a statement by a local 27-year-old man that René had made advances to him. The accusation came from a man to whom René had taught karate in his spare time.

Le café vide et fermé de René. (Photo par Erin Royal Brokovitch)

René’s empty, closed café in Leboudi. (Photo by Erin Royal Brokovitch)

René could not understand the exchange between the Yaoundé police officer and the complainants, which was conducted in Eton, a local language in Leboudi that René does not understand. The officer refused him the right to notify his family, so René remained incarcerated for six days at the Nkolbisson police station. He was released after he secretly managed to contact his mother.

At first glance, René seems to be a victim of homophobia, which is common in Cameroon. But he is actually the target of a scam by villagers in Leboudi who, in the  guise of opposition to homosexuality, are trying to deprive him of his property through lies and corruption.

After his release in 2012, René took refuge in his hometown in western Cameroon. There, his mother realized that her son was the victim of a  hoax.  The villagers who seized René and turned him over to police asked for a payment of  300,000 CFA francs (about US $620) and a signed statement by his family that he would never return to Leboudi.

Two gay men in Cameroon (Photo by Eric Lembembe)

Two gay men in Cameroon (Photo by Eric Lembembe)

What’s more, the Eton-speaking police officer investigating the case added a claim that René was possessed by a gay “demon” that frequently caused him to jump onto his cellmates and try to sodomize them — a malicious fiction, René insists.

Before long, René went back to Yaoundé. There he met with a few supportive neighbors from Leboudi who encouraged him to return to his property. Attempting to reclaim his rightful ownership of his land in Leboudi, this time René had support from the leader of the Lékié region. With that backing, he again opened his café.

For a while, he believed his troubles were behind him, but in 2013 he received a bailiff’s official notification about the complaint by the 27-year-old who charged René with making homosexual advances. A hearing in the case was scheduled for September 2013.

 Guilty by Association report by Human Rights Watch records violations in the enforcement of Cameroon’s anti-gay law. (Click on the image to download the report.)


Report by Human Rights Watch records violations in the enforcement of Cameroon’s anti-gay law. (Click on the image to download the report.)

Going to court that day, René and his attorney found no evidence that the case ever existed. No complainant was present. René wondered whether his persecutors were working with the bailiff to harass him.

For a few months, René again lived at peace, but in early 2014, two young men in Leboudi became friends and decided to live together as roommates. Quickly, rumors spread that they were gay — and that René had initiated them into homosexuality.

Then things got worse. In April 2014, on Easter Eve, the uncle of the 27-year-old, a staff sergeant in the army, confronted René, accused him of perverting local youths, and threatened to make him pay for his misdeeds.

Des maisons à Leboudi (Photo par Naëlle Le Moal)

Houses in Leboudi (Photo by Naëlle Le Moal)

On Easter Sunday, the uncle returned with a military escort. One man in the group offered to help René in return for a bribe.

This time, René had support from a neighbor, a chief warrant officer in the army, who told the staff sergeant he should be ashamed of himself.  Confronted by the neighbor, the crowd vanished.

The next day, René lodged a complaint against the staff sergeant at the man’s military security unit.

But the nightmare was far from over. That evening, another threatening mob entered the café, brandishing machetes and other weapons. As his customers fled, René was beaten and dragged along the ground for 1,000 meters until the mob reached the offices of the region’s leader.

One of the attackers told the mob that they were acting naïvely — “like a Tintin” — by taking René to the official.  Instead, he proposed beating René to death.

Localisation de Leboudi, à environ 30 kilomètres de Yaoundé

Location Leboudi, about 30 kilometers from Yaoundé

The 27-year-old was forced to appear before the regional leader, where he  admitted that his accusation against René was false.  The leader ruled in René’s favor and told the crowd to go home.

Finally, the mystery of the crowd’s motivation was dispelled by one of the attackers. He disclosed that some of the former owners of René’s land were unhappy with the sale and were trying to get it back. He offered to support René in return for a bribe.

René refused to pay the bribe, but decided to abandon his efforts to reopen the café.

He still lives in Leboudi, despite his fear  that hostile villagers will resume their harassment. For his own protection, he moves around the village by secret paths rather on the main roads.

His opponents continue to threaten him and say they won’t leave him in peace as long as he and his homosexual “demon” remain in Leboudi.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Harassment / murders | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Uganda, don’t pray to ‘heal’ gays (or blacks or women)

Stella Nyanzi

Stella Nyanzi

In this brief commentary, Stella Nyanzi — an anthropologist, social science researcher and resident of Uganda, where Pentecostal churches are popular — speaks out against some anti-LGBT religious leaders’ practice of attempting to “pray away the gay.” After her commentary appeared on Facebook, it attracted a flood of readers’ comments, some of which are published below.  

Healing of homosexuality in the name of Jesus Christ is a sham. Although a widespread practice in our tongue-talking spiritual churches, it is a dangerous lie.

To heal a homosexual and cure the homosexuality out of the system would be like curing me of my blackness or healing me from my womanhood. Blackness is not sickness. Being woman is not an illness. Homosexuality is neither a disease nor an illness.

To lay hands on a homosexual person in order to bind and cast out homosexuality from them as part of spiritual warfare is just like praying the left-handedness out of my elderly mother. I am questioning the credibility of the Ex-Gay movement. It is a performance.

A selection of Facebook comments:

Prophet T.B. Joshua (Photo courtesy of vibeghana.com)

Prophet T.B. Joshua (Photo courtesy of vibeghana.com)

Commenter T.A.: [Televangelist and faith healer] T.B Joshua cures, casts and binds in Nigeria.

Stella Nyanzi: In Uganda we also have a long list of names of Pastors, Prophets, Apostles and Evangelists who claim to bind, cast out and cure homosexuality. They are liars who damage and fracture whole persons.

Commenter LB: How much you know about the name of JESUS? Knowing much about homosexuality is why you fail to questioning. What is in the name of JESUS, any thing with the name can be taken out by one NAME, JESUS. Have faith, not carnal mind.

Stella Nyanzi: LB, I personally know Jesus Christ, not just about his name and the way that men and women of today manipulate it to traumatise, injure, oppress and hate homosexual human beings. I am a believer. And no amount of praying will miraculously cure me of my blackness just as no deliverance sessions will cure homosexuality.

Logo of Exodus International

Logo of Exodus International

Commenter JF:  In the West, “ex-gay” ministries are dying like flies as their leaders own up to the sham and admit they are still as gay or Lesbian as they ever were and the big momma of ex-gay ministries — Exodus International — closed down last year. It is a bit like the tobacco industry in that, seeing the West reject their cancer-causing marketing, they turn to the developing world.

Stella Nyanzi: Exodus International sent representatives to Uganda to ally with the anti-gay movement comprising parliamentarians, pastors, and politicians. Their ministry hurts individuals and communities. Closing down their offices does not undo the mass ideology and false hope for a cure that they sold here in our country, JF. Their messages based on deceit were swallowed and believed wholesale by faithful dogmatic Christians here.

Pastor Thomas Mutete

Pastor Thomas Mutete

Thomas Mutete: Hey, Stella. It may be true that people have failed to pray away the homo thing. but don’t you under-estimate the power of God to do the seemingly impossible. I believe that as a believer you believe that all things are possible to those who believe. In the same way as a virgin could conceive without sex, God can heal a homo with or without charismatic katemba [a Luganda word that means "exaggerated drama"].

Stella Nyanzi: Pastor Thomas Mutete, why would God need to heal someone who is well? Why do so-called Men of God such as your anointed self insist on seeing homosexuality as a disease or illness that requires healing? Saying this is like saying that blackness is sickness. How twisted is this?

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Commentary, Faith and religion | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Court ruling: Russian LGBT group is ‘foreign agent’

Cover of report on anti-LGBT discrimination in Russia, published by Coming Out.

Cover of report on anti-LGBT discrimination in Russia, published by Coming Out.

A court in St. Petersburg, Russia, yesterday ruled that the Russian LGBT rights group Coming Out is a “foreign agent,” a category that limits its ability to communicate with Russian citizens and subjects it to extra government scrutiny. Coming Out issued the following statement immediately after the ruling:

Today, July 21, 2014, Vasileostrovsky District Court of St. Petersburg found “Coming Out” LGBT organization to be a “foreign agent” – i.e. an organization engaged in political activities on behalf of foreign countries. The trial lasted close to four hours.

None of the defense’s arguments were taken into account. Forestalling prosecution responses, Judge Naidyonova ventured to explain that “Coming Out” is violating rights of “persons with traditional sexual orientation” and that our brochure on recognizing discrimination and protecting rights is propaganda material:

“Someone reads this brochure, and is impressed, and might start to share these thoughts with other people, create a coalition and start activities.”

At the same time, the Ministry of Justice maintained that the “kind of information” (about homosexuality) needs to have “appropriate labeling” (“foreign agent”), while the prosecution insisted that, in Russia, no one is persecuted for expressing opinions and that the “foreign agents” label is neutral.

English version of the logo of the Russian organization Coming Out

English version of the logo of the Russian organization Coming Out

The label “foreign agent” on all the public materials of the organization would be a sign for the wider society that the idea of protecting the rights of LGBT people is something “foreign” and therefore unnecessary and even harmful. An organization registered as a “foreign agent” would also be subject to extra governmental audits, and further measures that would limit its capabilities to work.

“Coming Out” will appeal the court’s decision, but there is no guarantee that the organization will not be registered by the Ministry of Justice in the nearest future, as it happened today with five major human rights organizations [including] “Memorial”, “Agora”, and “YURIKS” (Jurists for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms).

Today’s decision marks an end of the 16-month saga during which “Coming Out” invested considerable time, effort, and resources to explain to the courts, mass media, and the general public that defending universal human rights of Russian citizens is in the interests of those citizens, and of Russia.

We are hoping that, regardless of the final outcome, this message was able to reach the hearts and minds of many people.

On July 2, Coming Out stated:

Harassment of “Coming Out” under the “foreign agents” law has been dragging on for 15 months, since the first inspections in March 2013. The prosecution, having lost the administrative suit last summer, launched the new civil suit in the winter of 2013. Since the very first hearing of last year, it has not presented any new evidence that “Coming Out” is engaged in “political activity” using foreign money. The basis for the “foreign agents” claim is still the “Coming Out”’s brochure on discrimination of LGBT, and a protest rally against adoption of the “propaganda law” (which, incidentally, “Coming Out” did not organize).

“The arduous attempts to label us “foreign agents” are in line with the Russian Federation’s promotion of traditional values, domestically and abroad, of which homophobia seems to be an important one,” says Coming Out’s activist, Polina Andrianova. “Our goal is equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. We want St. Petersburg’s citizens to understand and respect each other. We will not work under this label.”

Posted in Europe, Harassment / murders, Trials / punishments | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Working toward a Caribbean that’s no longer anti-gay

The Caribbean (courtesy Wikipedia)

The Caribbean (courtesy Wikipedia)

The Caribbean is the only region in the Western Hemisphere that still criminalizes same-gender intimacy.  Recently, fundamentalist religious groups across the region have mounted large demonstrations condemning homosexuality, and appear to have successfully lobbied local governments to keep these British colonially imposed anti-gay laws. Not coincidentally, attacks often occur against LGBTI people, most recently a mob that threatened a young man in Jamaica on June 14 for allegedly wearing lipstick in public.

In response to this heightened homophobia, a new project called LGBTI Aware Caribbean has been launched to continue providing critical LGBTI awareness training for key sectors across the Caribbean.   The work extends a similar programme developed for the Caribbean by AIDS-Free World, which also provided the financial, logistical and other support.

Tom Decker and Maurice Tomlinson

Tom Decker (left) and Maurice Tomlinson

76 Crimes interviewed the program’s training facilitators, the Rev. Tom Decker of Canada and  LGBTI rights activist Maurice Tomlinson of Jamaica and Canada.  Tomlinson is a regular contributor to 76 Crimes; he and Tom are married.

76 Crimes: Why did you decide to launch this project now?

MT: In my previous position with AIDS-Free World, I traveled across the Caribbean a fair bit challenging homophobic laws, practices, and attitudes that contribute to the region having the 2nd highest HIV prevalence rate after sub-Saharan Africa.  During my travels I noticed that local attitudes towards gays varied a great deal.

However, I also noticed that the homophobic rhetoric was ramping up in countries that were traditionally very tolerant towards same-gender intimacy.  For example, there have been unprecedented protests against gay rights in countries like St. Lucia and Grenada.  These demonstrations were organized by fundamentalist religious groups and mirrored what was happening in Jamaica and Belize.  The result has predictably been a spike in aggression towards persons who are gender non-conforming, such as the overwhelming public support for the murderers of an intersex person in St. Lucia recently.  Aggressive homophobia is spreading across the Caribbean because the majority of citizens lack basic knowledge about LGBTI people.  Persons are susceptible to the misinformation being pushed by fundamentalist groups.

Simply put, research has shown that people fear gays because they don’t know or understand us.  Through this training we hope to continue providing key leaders and opinion-shapers in Caribbean society with information to counter some of the myths and fear mongering of the evangelicals.  It is expected that these persons can then help to turn the tide of hate against LGBTI people.

76 Crimes: Can you provide a brief explanation about the programme and who it will target?

Tom and Maurice at St. Lucia Police LGBT Sensitivity Training

Tom Decker and Maurice Tomlinson at a Police LGBT Sensitivity Training session in St. Lucia

TD:  While I was the LGBT liaison officer for the Toronto Police Service, I helped to develop a similar programme, which was eventually used to sensitize police across the world.  This programme was modified by AIDS-Free World to address Caribbean realities — for example, the absence of hate speech legislation in the Caribbean.  It is delivered in modules, on a “train the trainer” basis, in order to allow for local ownership and sustainability of the training.

The programme takes participants through basic understanding of what it means to be an LGBTI individual, and how to uphold the human rights of LGBTI people, even in criminalized contexts.

We facilitate two days of training and then certify select persons to continue delivering the sessions. We also encourage and include local LGBTI persons in the trainings in order to ensure frank discussions with key stakeholders about the types of victimization LGBTI nationals may be experiencing.  Sometimes this is the first such direct dialogue between the groups we train and the LGBTI people they are supposed to serve.

Initially, we only targeted police for these sessions but, based on demand, we included other key groups, such as health care workers, judges, social workers, and the media.

A significant aim of the course is to provide an understanding of LGBTI people.   That is why Maurice and I deliver the sessions together.  We allow participants who may never have had the opportunity to openly interact with gays a safe place for them to ask their most probing questions of a gay couple.

St. Lucia Police LGBT Sensitivity Training

St. Lucia Police LGBT Sensitivity Training

76 Crimes:  What are some of the questions that participants ask about your relationship as a gay married couple, and how do you respond?

MT: They have asked: “Who is the wife and who is the husband?” “Why don’t you have the same last name?”

We recognize that the questions, though invasive, are not meant to be malicious.  The participants genuinely want to know.  And since Tom and I are both used to these kinds of questions — he was a cop and I am a lawyer, so we have pretty much heard it ALL — we simply answer as respectfully and honestly as we can.  The learning has been transformative.

76 Crimes: How so?

TD: Officers who came into the training sessions very hostile to any discussion on human rights for LGBTI people actually expressed at the end that they really had no idea just how “normal” LGBTI people are.

Many attendees previously viewed LGBTI people as perverse abominations, and un-apprehended criminals who are a threat to children.  We present the reality that many LGBTI people have families — for example, Maurice has a biological son and has fostered 2 others — and we feel we really are only different from heterosexuals in how we express our love for another consenting adult.  This usually leads to a reduction in the level of hostility.  Participants quickly realize that our relationship is not principally about sex, but rather our desire to share and build a life with someone we love. This is a desire to which they can all relate.

St. Lucia Police LGBT Sensitivity Training

St. Lucia Police LGBT Sensitivity Training

These trainings have had impacts in ways we did not imagine.  For example, at the end of the last sessions in St. Lucia, the officers held their annual police week celebrations, which included a public debate.  The moot topic was: “As consenting adults, gays have the right to marry.”  This was amazing, as the officers chose this subject themselves and had to research both sides of this argument.  While we do not expect marriage equality to arrive in St. Lucia anytime soon — it is a very conservative society and the Catholic church is very influential — the fact is that as a result of the training, the conversation is continuing about the rights of LGBTI people on the island.

76Crimes: Are you working with other groups or individuals on this training?

MT:  Certainly.  AIDS-Free World brought this training to the Caribbean two years ago, in partnership with local groups.  Through LGBTI Aware Caribbean, local groups are now responsible for the sustainability of these trainings.  These types of sessions require tremendous local coordination and negotiation with key stakeholders.  Sometimes, these discussions can be challenging, especially in light of the politics surrounding LGBTI rights in the region at this time.  We are therefore very pleased to continue working with organizations such as United and Strong of St. Lucia, MOVADAC of Barbados, and LGBT Platform Suriname.

The Global Justice Institute of Metropolitan Community Church has also agreed to act as fiscal sponsors so that private individuals can make online donations to support this project and receive tax deductible receipts for U.S. dollar contributions.

76 Crimes: Beside awareness-raising, what do you also hope to accomplish from the training?

TD:  The aims for the training are simple:

  • To empower participants to support the safety of LGBTI people;
  • To promote respect for the human rights of all citizens;
  • To engender an appreciation of the dignity of all human beings;
  • To allow for professional and competent service delivery for key service providers in society; and
  • To promote healthy Caribbean societies through improved access to critical healthcare for groups vulnerable to HIV.

76 Crimes:  Where has this programme previously been delivered in the Caribbean?

MT:  The training has so far been delivered in 3 Caribbean countries – Barbados, St. Lucia and Suriname. The police services of St. Lucia and Suriname have expressed an interest in having the material incorporated into the curriculum of their police academies.

We also facilitated sensitization for police trainers from member countries in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Regional Security System.  We now have invitations to take the programme across the region.

76 Crimes: Why did you decide to start with the police?

Maurice and Tom, listening to a comment, St. Lucia Police training.

Decker and Tomlinson (both behind the podium) listen to a comment during a training session in St. Lucia.

TD:  We felt police/LGBT sensitization was necessary because of the critical role police play in providing access to justice.  Also, once persons see that police are trained to interact positively with LGBTI people, this usually reduces the likelihood of vigilante attacks against gays.

MT: We in the Caribbean also need to leapfrog some of the issues police have had with LGBTI people in the Global North.  At the recent WorldPride parade in Toronto, there were numerous images of police interacting positively with parade attendees.  That took some time to achieve, as police were originally seen as the enemy of the LGBTI community. In fact, the LGBTI liberation movement really started — in many major cities — because of police raids of LGBTI establishments.

76Crimes: What has been one of the most surprising things to discover about this training?

TD: I was surprised to learn that a significant number of the persons we trained were lay preachers or leaders in their churches.  So, a portion of the training necessarily involved helping participants to understand the varied religious approaches to same-gender relationships.

We also spent some time clarifying that our role as facilitators was not to change deeply held religious beliefs, but rather to ensure that, regardless of those beliefs, participants were able to respond in a professional manner to LGBTI people.

76 Crimes:  How and why should persons support this initiative?

MT: I encourage persons in the Global North to support this initiative:

  1. Because much of the homophobia in the Caribbean is being whipped up by evangelical religious extremism imported from countries such as Canada, the US and the UK.  This programme presents an opportunity for citizens of those countries to help repair the harm done by their nationals.
  2. Homophobia in the Caribbean is finding its way back to the Global North in the form of migration.
  3. Visitors to the Caribbean may be exposed to the rising tide of homophobic rhetoric and violence.  Anyone who does not fit the very rigid definitions of masculine or feminine would be vulnerable to attack.   This includes some heterosexuals who are gender non-conforming.

I therefore urge persons to donate to this project by visiting our website.

No donation is too small and we have a budget of US$150,900 to train key sectors in six countries.   The Global Justice Institute of the MCC will provide tax receipts for donations from the U.S.  Persons from the Global North may also support us by encouraging their governments to assist this initiative.  The last training in St. Lucia was kindly co-sponsored by the UK High Commission in that country.

Posted in Americas, Commentary, Positive steps | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. money keeps supporting anti-gay programs

Despite President Obama’s promise to stop funding ineffective, discredited faith-based programs claiming to reduce HIV infections and unwanted pregnancies, U.S. taxpayers’ dollars are still bankrolling them.

Freelance investigative journalist Andy Kopsa has uncovered the institutional bias toward those programs, run by anti-gay, anti-choice conservative religious groups at home and abroad at a time when anti-AIDS programs for LGBT people are denied adequate funding.

The following excerpts come from from Kopsa’s report in The Nation, entitled “Obama’s Evangelical Gravy Train”:

Barack Obama (Photo by Steve Jurvetson via Wiki Commons)

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said, “If you get a federal grant … you can’t discriminate.” But millions in federal funds keep flowing to anti-gay faith-based organizations. (Photo by Steve Jurvetson via Wiki Commons)

[Since] taking office, Obama has done little to end Bush-era funding to a whole range of conservative religious groups. …

Faith-based offices were set up in agencies as diverse as the Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture and given hundreds of millions of dollars a year to distribute to faith-based groups.

As a presidential candidate, Obama promised to make a sharp break from Bush administration policies by holding federally funded faith-based groups accountable. “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them,” he said during a July 2008 stump speech.

But a review of a database of federal grants, independent reports and numerous interviews with government officials and grantees reveals that little has changed since Obama took office. …

Instead of seeking out new implementing partners that would follow best public health practices, [under the Obama administration] many Bush-era grantees have seen their funding renewed again and again. An entire federally funded evangelical economy took root during the Bush years, and under Obama it continues to thrive. …

Photo accompanying an appeal by Children’s AIDS Fund for school uniforms.

Photo accompanying an appeal by Children’s AIDS Fund for school uniforms.

It’s not as if advocates haven’t sounded the alarm to administration officials. [They have long raised concerns about U.S. funding for the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, or IRCU, which pushed hard for that country's Anti-Homosexuality Law, which lost $6.4 million in U.S. in March after the law was enacted, and about] the Children’s AIDS Fund (CAF), an American organization, led by the husband-and-wife team Shepherd and Anita Smith, that operates in Uganda.

The Smiths got their start working with Watergate crook Chuck Colson and his evangelical prison ministry; later, Shepherd ran Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign. They took on AIDS as their mission in the 1980s, fashioning what they saw as a love-the-sinner, hate-the-sin approach that focused on ministering to the sick, particularly children. Over time, they would articulate a more fulsome conservative evangelical approach to AIDS centered around praying people out of homosexuality, abstinence-only education, virginity pledges and robust criticism of condoms, laid out in their 1990 book Christians in the Age of AIDS. Even in recent years, Shepherd has pounced on modest failure rates to denounce condom efficacy against HIV.

Anita Smith, president of the Children's AIDS Fund

Anita Smith, president of the Children’s AIDS Fund

“The first evangelical ministries to see AIDS and respond were those already in place in the gay community, helping heal sexual brokenness and bring gays out of their lifestyles,” the book reads. The Smiths go on to caution Christians against buying into “society’s attempts to make homosexuality an acceptable alternative lifestyle.” …

In a memo to USAID officials, Representative Henry Waxman, then ranking minority member of the Government Reform Committee, wrote that the funding of CAF was so out of bounds that it “raises serious concerns about the integrity of the PEPFAR [U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] grant review process.”

Yet CAF has received at least $45 million since then through direct PEPFAR grants, and still more as a third-party grantee, subcontracting with Catholic Relief Services, for example. As recently as February of this year, CAF received $1 million for its New Hope clinic in Kampala.

A Christian anti-AIDS clinic with no condoms

Bulletin board at New Hope Clinic in Uganda promotes a combination of Jesus, Mary and "HIV meds" in the battle against HIV. (Andy Kopsa photo courtesy of The Nation)

Bulletin board at New Hope Clinic in Uganda promotes a combination of Jesus, Mary and “HIV meds” in the battle against HIV. (Andy Kopsa photo courtesy of The Nation)

On a hot but breezy day in August 2012, I visited New Hope. The clinic is located in Kampala’s Naguru district, on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, and is funded by PEPFAR to provide care and treatment for people with HIV and AIDS. The clinic is also tasked with implementing an HIV prevention program to include comprehensive sexual education and access to condoms.

There were very few patients the day I visited, and the clinic’s administrator ushered me into a counseling room with several posters on the wall. One depicted HIV as a gang of scowling green blobs being attacked by anti-retroviral drugs, represented by smiling cells in crisp white lab coats; another was an image of Jesus, his hand raised, light spilling from his opened chest and Jesus I trust you! written below. Below Jesus was a portrait of the Virgin Mary and on the opposite wall, an image of St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes.

A poster at the Children’s AIDS Fund clinic in New Hope reads “Jesus, I trust you!”

A few minutes into our chat, I asked the clinic administrator about condoms. She paused. Finally, she said, “We are very suspicious of those.” When I asked whether the clinic provided comprehensive sex education—including instruction on the correct and consistent use of condoms—she said she didn’t know for sure and left to find a more senior clinic employee.

That employee arrived, but was no more able to answer my questions. All she could do was show me was a spot in a three-ring binder where she swore sex-ed materials were supposed to be and a big empty cardboard box labeled “CONDOMS,” which was relegated to a back hallway of the clinic. PEPFAR guidelines stipulate that grantees make condoms available and distribute them as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy. …

Abstinence-only programs: “no beneficial impact”

Public service advertisement from Condoms4Life.org

Public service advertisement from Condoms4Life.org

Public health experts have long discounted abstinence-only programs as ineffective. While there is scattered evidence that the approach, used with very young adolescents, can delay adolescents’ first sexual experience, there’s no reliable evidence that it reduces either teen pregnancies or sexual transmitted diseases. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that virginity pledges, a staple of religious abstinence-only programming, did not decrease the occurrence of teen sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and resulted in pledge-takers not seeking medical attention once infected. And in 2011, a definitive nine-year study by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that “these programs have no beneficial impact on young people’s sexual behavior.”

Adolescent health advocacy groups have pushed the Obama administration to stop funding these ineffective, ideological programs, asking that such funds be redirected toward comprehensive sex ed instead. …  Yet the funding for such programs has continued.

Read the full article for more information, including details about direct and indirect Obama administration funding for these programs, at home and in Africa:

  • He Intends Victory, an “ex-gay” ministry in Uganda, praised by Pastor Rick Warren, which bills itself as a Christian HIV/AIDS education and support group. It is funded by CAF, which in turn is federally funded.
  • Franklin Graham (Photo by Paul M. Walsh via Wikimedia Commons)

    Franklin Graham (Photo by Paul M. Walsh via Wikimedia Commons)

    Samaritan’s Purse, led by Franklin Graham, the son of televangelist  Billy Graham, which includes Bibles in “hygiene kits” delivered to African countries devastated by wars or natural disasters and runs a “Families Matter” prevention program. Samaritan’s Purse has received $23.3 million from the U.S. since Obama took office in 2009.

  • Truth in Action Ministries, running an abstinence-only program in Mississippi, which received a portion of $739,000 in federal funds, including $67,000 to oversee it.
  • The Evansville Christian Life Center in Indiana, which won a federal abstinence-only grant for $244,110.
  • The Center for Relationship Education, which produces abstinence-only programs and received more than $1 million in federal funds for its work.
  • The Indiana Family Institute, which ushered a same-sex marriage ban through the state legislature and was chosen as the state’s partner in implementing a $1.5 million federally funded “healthy marriage” program.
  • The Family Leader program in Iowa, which received $3 million in federal funds for “healthy marriage workshops” while campaigned for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
  • And many more.

Kopsa concludes:

Faith-based groups like Children’s AIDS Fund and IRCU aren’t the only ones equipped to deliver life-saving care and prevention in sub-Saharan Africa. Smaller, home-based healthcare organizations with no religious agenda are operating in Uganda with little funding but huge potential. That’s true in the United States too. Proven programs that reduce the risk of teen pregnancy and STIs could be getting the millions of dollars in government funding now allocated to CPCs.

The evidence is in that federal tax dollars are being used to support conservative, faith-based organizations that stigmatize young women, foster anti-gay sentiment and harm public health. Whether this funding is an expression of Obama’s ideology or a cynical attempt at political pandering is ultimately immaterial.

“Obama’s Evangelical Gravy Train” appeared in The Nation on July 8, 2014.

Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan), Americas, Faith and religion, HIV / AIDS, International pressure for LGBT rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Uganda drops charges against trans woman

Luzira Prison (Photo courtesy of Monitor.ug)

Luzira Prison, where Emma Bbosa was held. (Photo courtesy of Monitor.ug)

Charges have been dropped against Emma Bbosa, a Ugandan trans woman.

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum — Uganda (HRAPF), reports:

“Emma Bossa’s case was today dismissed for want of prosecution by the Grade ! Magistrate of Mwanga II Court. The state had for five consecutive times failed to produce witness is the malicious damage to property case.

“Today, the case came up and the prosecutor asked for a further adjournment. Ms. Fridah Mutesi, the HRAPF lawyer handling the case, argued against the adjournment on the basis that further adjournments were prejudicial to her client who has charges pending over her and yet the state does not present any witness. The magistrate agreed with Ms. Mutesi and the case was dismissed.”

Our previous report in May: The legal advocacy group HRAPF has won release from prison for a Ugandan transgender woman who is facing criminal charges related to the passage of the country’s harsh anti-gay law.

Emma Bbosa had been detained in Luzira Prison awaiting trial on charges of arson and malicious damage to property, which she says were fabricated by the landlord of her partner.

Many landlords in Uganda have ousted LGBT tenants this year, both because of the country’s increasingly hateful attitude to LGBT people and for fear of running afoul of the provision in the Anti-Homosexuality Law that penalizes anyone who “offers premises and other related fixed or movable assets for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality.” The penalty for violating that provision is a prison sentence of five to seven years.

Bbosa’s case is being handled by the advocacy group Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum — Uganda (HRAPF), which is provided legal representation for several LGBT defendants in Uganda.

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF, said she was arrested on April 15, released on police bond on April 16, and re-arrested on April 17.  Supporters were needed who were willing to guarantee that she would return to court for her trial, Jjuuko said.

Today she was released. “We managed to get the sureties and all is fine, at least for now,” he said.

Also today, the arson charge against Bbosa was dismissed, leaving only the charge of malicious damage to property, Jjuuko said.

Bbosa is due back in court on May 26, at which point the prosecution may proceed with her trial.

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Posted in Africa, Africa (Sub Saharan) | Tagged | 1 Comment