Dr. Paul Semugoma, a Ugandan physician, just published this poignant perspective on the anti-gay movement in his native country, the US role in fostering that hostile climate, and the repercussions on efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and reach out to the vulnerable at-risk populations if the tide is not reversed.
“Uganda is undergoing a crisis of homophobia,” he writes. “In the 1990s, the country had an effective HIV/AIDS prevention program. Broad-based partnerships and targeted public education campaigns meant that the number of people living with HIV actually declined dramatically. That’s over. In this decade, ideology and prejudice shouldered aside science to drive Uganda’s anti-AIDS campaign.
“The US bears much of the blame. The US President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) surrendered to homophobia and reinforced the invisibility of gay men. It preached “abstinence until marriage;” since gays can’t marry, they were excluded from HIV outreach. The US Agency for International Development, responding to Congressional pressure, barred use of the term “men who have sex with men.” In Uganda, these programs funded faith-based organizations — many with no experience working on HIV prevention or treatment, many openly spreading hatred of lesbians and gay men.”
This has now culminated in a frightening debate over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill pending in the Ugandan Parliament and inspired, at least in part, by some conservative US religious leaders. That legislation would impose life imprisonment, or even death, for same-gender consensual sex acts and threatens imprisonment of individuals who do not report suspected homosexual acts to the police.
“The Obama administration has a chance to turn things around — but it must act fast,” Semugoma writes. “It must press Uganda’s government to bring science and human rights back into HIV prevention. Otherwise, my patient, and thousands like him, will die from the deadliest diseases: silence and fear.”
It’s worth reading the whole commentary: