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RGOD2: Making sense (and cents) in the global AIDS epidemic

Two years ago, 26 international activists were invited by the St. Paul’s Foundation and our key partners to attend the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington DC. Reflecting back two years later, one leader was brutally murdered in Cameroon, another exiled as an expert in Ethiopia, and many of the challenges these wonderful people faced upon returning to their countries, are, in many cases, worse than in 2012.

The rise of new forms of anti-gay legislation in Russia, Nigeria and Uganda has made it more difficult for people to do their jobs, to work collaboratively together and more than anything, to get the funding needed for the good work they are doing. We thought by now, given the time it takes for small organizations to ramp up, gain experience through seed funding and have something substantial to report to potential donors, many of these organizations would be better funded, but this has simply not happened.

Our own blind spots

Our own donor aid through USAID and PEPFAR still favors extremely homophobic organizations across the planet over organizations that are comfortable working with LGBTI people. In spite of all the wonderfully talented LGBT people who have been hired in the past two years to fix this disconnect from our government’s inclusive rhetoric and where we actually send our dollars, the DNA of our international aid prefers Christian conservatives over others.

World Vision, for example, is still raking in a quarter-billion dollars a year from the American taxpayer while our Good Samaritan Consortium in Uganda, after a year and a half of begging and trying to fund excellent work, gets nothing. Many of our partner organizations have strong ties with the faith community including the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda, but it still does not seem to matter.

Global events like the International AIDS Conference are vital markers and provide tangible forms of accountability where we can name the barriers that human beings have created while other human beings will simply die after a long and painful illness. Cultural and religious reasons remain the primary obstacle to moving forwards and we will never reach ambitious goals set out by UNAIDS or the World Health Organization until we face our own human blind spots.

Faith can act like a blindfold where religious leaders simply refuse to see the consequences and outcomes of their policies. USAID and PEPFAR also have blind spots and African and Middle Eastern governments and religious organizations refuse to see the connection between draconian laws which not only threaten to incarcerate LGBT people and allies, but undermines all collaborative efforts to reach “key affected populations.”

It was important breakthrough for USAID to finally send a clear message to the faith community in Uganda that they cannot use American tax-payer donations to persecute minority populations within their own country. News from Uganda last week shows the faith community remains determined to ensure the Anti-Homosexuality Law, recently challenged by the Ugandan Court as unconstitutional, will remain the law of the land. Although the Inter-religious Council has lost $6.5 million in contracts, it has not lost its resolve to create as many barriers to access to information, education and health services for the LGBT population. The rhetoric and high hopes of the latest International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia must hit the hard realities of communities like Kampala.

The best summary of what came out of the Melbourne Conference

Denis Leblanc is one of our volunteer editors to the French speaking section of our blog “Erasing 76 Crimes” and he recommends this excellent summary of the highlights and outcomes of the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, which recently ended.

It’s a great article and it would be good to review the outcome of the conference and put the goals and objectives into a specific context like Uganda, where we are featuring one of the most exciting projects to emerge from a contemporary youth organization. Youth on Rock Foundation is working in one of the most difficult contexts imaginable. We recently sent a small gift to the Good Samaritan Consortium, (still afraid to meet as a group for fear of arrest) -- $1,000 to help Youth on Rock Foundation to do what it does best. They are reaching out to people who are so marginalized, they have no access to internet and they were not even aware of what the Anti-Homosexuality Law meant for them.

LGBT and resources targeting “key affected populations” continue to focus on urban populations but Youth on Rock Foundation has been deliberately going to isolated communities like the fisher-folk on the shores of the Lake Victoria, far from the HIV projects of Kampala.

Typical scenarios around the world

Earlier this year, Jamaican activist Angeline Jackson told audiences in Southern California that over 60% of the women she is working with through Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ) have not been tested for HIV this past year. They cannot afford it and the stigma of being lesbian and entering the Jamaican health care system is still a problem for most.

There is a major universal problem where reduction of stigma, decriminalization and easier access to testing and drug treatment are the only means to eradicating HIV before it eradicates us. Grassroots organizations like Youth on Rock and QCJ hold the solutions to the issues the experts in Melbourne grappled with. These youth organizations need the resources to reach more youth and with $1,000 each, both were able to work miracles this summer. Twenty peer educators were trained and sent out to the most isolated communities in Mukono, distributing lubricants, condoms and information about testing and their security. Many of the women Angeline talked about have been able to be trained in similar support structures to make their lives better.

Poverty remains a factor in HIV transmission

Youth on Rock Foundation has an awesome piggery project where they are also working to help pull LGBTI youth out of poverty, one piglet at a time! JP Conly’s report is one of the best reports I read in ages. If you take the time to simply compare what Melbourne discussed and presented and what is happening on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda, you can see the challenging work we all need to do over the next two years.

Please donate to the Foundation to support the work in these two countries in particular. Maxensia Nakibuuka from Uganda and Angeline Jackson will be back in Southern California in late September and we all hope to raise money to support all of their courageous efforts.

In the meantime, the Foundation is developing an excellent 10-minute film which simply describes our work and how your donations are being used around the world. We need this tool to raise awareness, increase our donor base and fund the grassroots efforts that continue to be sidelined or simply ignored by larger donors and USAID/PEPFAR funders. We can no longer wait for funds coming from these sources and so it is up to ordinary citizens like you and me to support the people who are working on the ground. I cannot fix Uganda or Jamaica’s problems or bring an end to the global AIDS epidemic, but I know some people who can. My job is simply to support them and to invite you to do the same. Without us working together, it is just not going to happen.

Two years has past and we now have some perspective and experience. It has been an extraordinary privilege for us to see these talented and committed people in action, given all the curve balls that are being sent their way on a monthly basis! Yet, nothing can stop them and they deserve support, recognition and important times of renewal and refreshment from the front lines of global homophobia. The Foundation is happy to be your partner to make sure these three things happen. We need your cents and your sense that we are moving in the right direction.

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RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE. RGOD2 appears on SDGLN and GLBTNN.