Advocates for change from many of the 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal are making last-minute preparations for their upcoming travel to Washington, D.C., to seek an end to exclusion of LGBT people from HIV prevention programs.
They will be hosted in the D.C. area by supportive local congregations and parishioners during the International AIDS Conference (July 22-27), the Interfaith Pre-Conference on HIV (July 20-21), the MSM Pre-Conference Event on combatting HIV among men who have sex with men (July 21), and an Interfaith AIDS Prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral (7 p.m. July 21).
A goal of their visit is to spotlight the devastating impact that laws against homosexuals have on the fight against AIDS. In most of the dozens of African countries with such laws, the HIV infection rate for men who have sex with men is much higher than that of the general population. LGBT people are typically excluded from HIV services either by law or because of stigma against homosexuals.
The visits of about 26 “authentic witnesses” from the 76 countries are sponsored by the Spirit of 76 Worldwide initiative of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, with support from congregations and faith communities.
Most recently, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal bishop of Washington, encouraged her congregations and parishioners to help with the effort.
“The presence of these persons will raise the awareness of participants in the conferences of the consequences of not including all vulnerable groups in the provision of AIDS services. We want those whose countries criminalize them because of their sexual orientation to know that the practice of denying them life saving treatment is an affront to all who believe in a God of compassion and love,” she said.
Several of the international visitors do not yet have confirmed local hosts. To volunteer as a short-term host or more more information, contact Eric Scharf (202-644-1320 or firstname.lastname@example.org ) who is coordinating congregational support for the Spirit of 76 initiative.
Budde added, “We are also collecting funds to support this initiative. If you would like to make a contribution, you may send your check directly to EDOW, earmarked Spirit of 76. We will then make a contribution on behalf of the Diocesan Bishop’s Office to support this vital program.” [The address of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington is 3101 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest Washington, DC 20016.]