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RGOD2: Sponsors needed to bring LGBT activists to World AIDS Conference

It is heartbreaking to read some of the stories of the 120 people who have applied for scholarships to the St. Paul’s Foundation so they can come to the World AIDS Conference in July in Washington, D.C.

Two particular accounts give us windows into what it is like for millions of LGBT people globally.

“Our current work is in dire need of intense advocacy given the repressive legal and policy environment. Our surveillance data has reported a prevalence of 27% for men who have sex with men (MSM) that accessed our health services. Our financial status does not allow us to pay travel or other expenses necessary for the faith pre-conference and main AIDS conference, but the meetings remain essential for the voice from the south to be heard as many programs intend for our part of the world are being developed without consultation with the communities for whom they are intended”.

Another, a young African woman, wrote:

“Owing to the criminalization of same sex sexual contact, universal access, let alone any access to services is non-existent for LGBT persons in Zambia there is no understanding, albeit willingness to address the health needs of LGBT persons even though Zambia has a mature hyper-epidemic with a zero-prevalence of 16.7 and an incidence of 1.6 per annum and the country still does not address the needs of MSM and bisexual co-currency. Therefore policy makers have not bothered to design interventions or programs for treatment care and support”

St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation is based at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego and has been working with 76 countries where it is still illegal to be LGBT. The foundation will bring representatives of these countries to the World AIDS Conference in Washington: Why is this important?

Criminalization also means lack of access to life saving prevention and health services for millions of LGBT people worldwide and religious communities are in the front lines of anti-LGBT rhetoric that often leads to draconian legislation like Uganda’s Bahati Bill, aka “Kill The Gays” bill.

The film “Call Me Kuchu,” which will be premiered in June at the Los Angeles Film Festival, tells this story very vividly as it documents the last year of the life of David Kato, a Ugandan human rights activist who was murdered in 2011.

“Call Me Kuchu” (queer in Ugandan slang) is a reminder of what millions of LGBT people face not only in Uganda but in the 75 other countries where it is illegal to be LGBT.

In December, the United Nations received its first-ever high level report on anti-LGBT violence. It documents a systemic problem from bullying on American playgrounds to state-sponsored executions of LGBT people in seven countries. The report can be read HERE and is very significant to our discussions as we celebrate International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO) on May 17.

San Diego observance of IDAHO

This coming Monday, May 14h, St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego with partner organizations including GLSEN, St. Paul’s Foundation, Integrity Circle and many local faith communities and school districts, will mark this important week with a free showing of “Teach Your Children Well” and a preview of “Call Me Kuchu” at 8 pm at the church.

A champagne reception will be held at 7.30 pm before the showing of the film and panel discussion.

“It is an honor to have these creative and talented film makers and activists who are making our schools and our world a safer place, present in San Diego to mark International Day Against Homophobia” said Very Rev. Scott Richardson, Dean of the cathedral.

There are other events planned around the world. Although the observance is more important in many countries around the world, American organizations are beginning to pay attention to these global issues and to connect LGBT equality in this country with other places in the world. Ryan Obuntu Olsen, the Washington-based coordinator for many of these events, noted:

“We have over 90 countries around the world participating. We have many organizations throughout the US who are participating already, but if your organization has yet to come up with an idea, you still have a week!! Whether big or small, something is better than nothing, right? So if you are doing something, please let me know. I am currently serving as their International Campaigns Officer. So keep me posted so we can show that world that we are here!”

It is amazing what one person can do

I have been impressed by one particular effort conceived by a former parishioner of mine.

“When I heard that you can be imprisoned or even killed just because of your identity, as a straight ally, this touched my heart deeply,” said Colin Stewart, a retired journalist and straight ally from Orange County.

Stewart is offering a different narrative from his neighbors at Saddleback Church by creating a new blog called Erasing 76 Crimes. From the heart of Orange County, he hopes to share a different narrative and solution to the dominant voice and policies of conservative Christianity. His blog is full of information about the effects of religious and political persecution of LGBT people.

Stewart and his wife Sue have also offered to sponsor ($3,500) one individual to come to Washington for two weeks where they will share in a training and immersion program and gain access to people who can make their lives better.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo will also be one of these voices and he wants to share what he is doing for LGBT and straight people in Uganda and how this model will help others. Bishop Christopher will also be visiting General Convention before coming to Washington for a month. His presence and experience has never been more needed as he shares his work with others from countries that have been severely harmed by American fundamentalism.

This is our moment to make a difference. We can no longer sit back and wait for others to redeem this dire situation.

If you cannot do something to observe this important event on May 17, then consider being part of “The Spirit of 76” by donating to our important movement by supporting the bishop’s training and advocacy tour and “The Spirit of 76” initiative. For every $3,500 we can raise in the next month, another individual from a Global South country can spend two weeks in freedom and gain some insights and professional connections to make their work much easier when they return home.

Thirty people have their bags are packed and they are eager to share their stories and experience with our congregations in Washington, DC.

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.