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RGOD2: How your taxes are killing LGBT people

Taxes and death may be the two inevitable American inescapable outcomes, but how are my taxes causing death to thousands of LGBT people around the world and how can I prevent these deaths?

I am in Washington, D.C. preparing for a panel discussion sponsored by the St. Paul’s Foundation, Ford Foundation and UN Foundation with 400 representative organizations from around the planet about LGBT issues and the World Bank.

The Bank is sponsoring Ministers of Health and Ministers of Finance to meet together to talk about why we are putting so much into the common pot for access to health care in countries like Uganda but are failing to see an increase in return for our dollars. Throwing money at a problem does not bring about a solution. How can we get the best bang for our buck and how can LGBT people around the world get access to services previously denied?

As Americans complete their tax returns and pay taxes for 2012, let me talk about what the global conversation means to the average American. Say I pay $3,000 to the IRS for income earned in 2012, $30 of my hard-earned income may be sent overseas in foreign aid to help countries living in poverty to move in a different direction. Our main aid agencies are huge organizations like USAID and our government provides additional income to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) or part goes to the United Nations Global Fund.

The USA makes the largest contribution to this fund thanks to our personal generosity. You may never have written a personal check to any overseas development efforts, but through layers in income and taxation, government commitments and international agreements, your hard-earned tax dollars go to support American interests in many countries abroad. Last year, USAID’s budget was $33 billion, which included $8.7 billion for the Global Health Initiative (including the PEPFAR program) to improve public health systems, prevent and treat infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, critical to stabilizing developing countries. Millions of people we will never know are alive today because ordinary Americans stepped to the plate and paid their taxes.

Where are your tax dollars going?

St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation has been looking at where the money is going, and it is not a happy story.

A recent survey of LGBT related services could expect only $35 million of USA international aid out of billions more dollars of aid that are going to organizations that support criminalization of LGBT people around the world in 76 countries. President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have created a noble red line under which Americans are invited not to go. The red line clearly delineates our official U.S. foreign policy about LGBT equality but we are not necessarily seeing that in action on the ground among out global partners.

On Dec. 6, 2011, President Obama issued a memorandum mandating the U.S. government agencies involved in foreign assistance “promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.” If I am paying $30 into a global fund for development and aid abroad, my guesstimate is a fraction of a cent of that check is going to help LGBT people abroad right now. A very small proportion of my tax dollars is actually going to help communities in need, especially LGBT communities and that is why we are here in Washington to meet with our aid agencies this week.

On Monday, April 8, USAID launched a new initiative with the Astraea Foundation, The Victory Institute and the Williams Institute to create a $12 million superfund to help struggling LGBT organizations in the Global South to try to reverse the impact of this kind of discrimination and invisibility. It is a beginning and so much more is needed to repair years of discrimination and neglect and to stop funding faith based programs that are on the front lines of LGBT oppression in many countries.

Discussions at the World Bank

On Wednesday, April 17, a panel of LGBT and straight allies will appeal to the World Bank for more attention and resources. On Thursday, we will meet with the No. 2 administrator of USAID, Donald Steinberg, to make our case.

Funds from the American taxpayer are disproportionately going to special-interest groups abroad who are not only out of touch with accepted empirical evidence-based practices on community health especially around HIV but are actively promoting programs that are impediments to more inclusive and comprehensive community-based health care.

Why, for example, did USAID support an abstinence-only HIV prevention program in Mozambique for $1.3 million when we know these programs are a waste of time and money? Maybe the fact that Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, oversees this American Evangelical development agency, Samaritan’s Purse, that is supported by your and my tax dollars, even though abstinence-only are a waste of our money.

As Americans look more closely at value for money in health services, we also need to look at the positive or negative impacts of our international aid and working with voiceless and marginalized communities can illustrate some of the serious flaws between our policies and how American aid is misdirected into ideological or theological issues. Andy Kopsa’s research is worth noting:

“For example, Samaritan's Purse (SP) was the most rewarded faith-based organization under President George W Bush. Between 1999 and 2002, it received over $6.5m in federal grants, accounting for 17 percent of total funding to "Evangelical" organizations, according to the National Committee on Responsible Philanthropy (NCRP).

SP is led by Franklin Graham who is not shy about his anti-Muslim and anti-condom beliefs. His organization exists for one reason: to implement a Christian worldview via public/private partnerships around the globe.

The organization brags about converting Muslims to Christianity through the distribution of "hygiene kits" and clean water projects in Niger. They have been found to be evangelising Haitians as part of their relief efforts.

But despite being censured previously for proselytizing with federal money, Graham's group still gets millions.

According to SP's 990 tax returns for 2011, the organization received over $7m in federal grants in that year alone.” Here full article is HERE.

I am deeply concerned that the largest faith based organization receiving USAID funding for overseas development, World Vision, does not allow openly gay people to work in their organization in the USA, yet claims to support services to everyone abroad. They received 25% of their $2 billion revenue from the federal government. HERE is more information on the largest faith based relief agency in the world and their influence is enormous. World Vision was responsible for funding A Christian Coalition in Ethiopia that became the main engine driving a terrifying anti-gay crusade in 2009.

Congress needs to look more deeply into the effects of these kinds of faith-based initiatives that are either in direct conflict to U.S. foreign policy or are not serving everyone in the communities they are supposed to. LGBT people feel intimidated or scared to seek services from these faith based clinics and hospitals. The result is often found in the rising percentages of men who have sex with men (MSM) who become infected. A recent survey of MSM in Uganda that has come out of a program we are supporting found 13.7 percent of MSM test positive, nearly twice the national average. These men are often married, in the closet and having sex with women partners who also may be oblivious to the partner’s status or bisexuality.

No more excuses

When many of the countries who are supposed to serve men who have sex with men or professional sex workers complete their reports to donor agencies and complain these populations either do not exist or do not show up, I simply ask the question, then why not support organizations who do reach these populations?

My friend Peter, who recently led the Ethiopian response to HIV among these most vulnerable populations, reminds me that American tax dollars went to World Vision – and they set up the Joint Christian Councils that called for the greater criminalization of homosexuality in 2009.

World Vision was directly responsible for their American anti-gay employment policy (that comes from their personnel policies protected by the Fifth Amendment) as a religious organization, and made sure their privately protected discrimination might become law in Ethiopia. Peter was arrested and tortured as a direct result of this kind of shadow foreign policy by American-based evangelical organizations that receive multimillion-dollar contracts from the American government. They hide behind good works to orphans and widows while ignoring the devastation they cause for the LGBT poor of the developing world. As more and more light is shed on a very hidden part of American-funded evangelism in the global south, the American tax payer deserves more accountability as to where their gifts are going and what they are actually used to fund.

I work full time with partners who are working tirelessly with very little USAID support to access health services in 76 countries where it is illegal to be gay, while my government gives multimillion-dollar contracts to organizations who would send me to jail if I lived in Uganda? What is wrong with this picture?

I would actually welcome a higher taxation from my government if I knew my hard earned money was helping gay and straight people create sustainable jobs and community understanding rather than send then to jail. My tax dollars are being used by religious extremists to diminish the quality of life of people I care about have to raise additional funds for leaders like straight ally Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and his Centre in Kampala. People like Christopher do not receive any support from the American taxpayer, while his opponents do. This is intolerable and we need to make sure our international values and support is consistent with where we spend our valuable dollars.

The meetings the World Bank this week will talk about how do we limit waste and maximize outcomes for healthcare. Evidenced based responses to health issues like HIV is a beginning and defunding ideological-based programs would be a breakthrough. Don’t give conditional aid; merely give aid where the most amount of people benefit from it and no-one is excluded.

We will be advocating a community-based approach to health care this week and it has many aspects that make sense and has been affirmed by a health consortium in Uganda that is ensuring everyone is served by USAID funding - prisoners, children who are caring for sick parents yet have little support, woman caregivers who are the nations backbone to the HIV response yet get little acknowledgment or remuneration, and criminalized LGBT folk. It is no longer acceptable to hear from former USAID contracts in countries like Uganda “We are not serving these marginalized communities simply because they are just not showing up for services.” American donors no longer believe this excuse and we should give support to organizations that can deliver services to everyone and are not caught in some religious proxy war subsidized by American taxpayers.

Reward the organizations who deliver services and prove to give us value for money. Forty percent of health services are delivered on the continent of Africa by faith-based organizations needs to reflect the 21st century value of service delivery to everyone. It is no longer acceptable or affordable to discriminate against populations that may be stigmatized yet need services if the country is to meet its UNAIDs goals. Even the Vatican wants universal access to healthcare for everyone as Secretary of State Bertone stated at the last International AIDS conference. Pope Benedict made this one of his last declarations in October 2012:

It is the “moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens, regardless of social and economic status or their ability to pay.” Saying access to adequate medical care is one of the “inalienable rights” of man, the pope said, “Justice in health care should be a priority of governments and international institutions.”

Our task this week is to convince the World Bank that LGBT people need the same access to health care as everyone else and to begin deconstructing the legal and systemic barriers that hold millions of us in sexual apartheid and leave us vulnerable to dying from AIDS largely unnoticed. This is no longer a human rights issue, but a major moral question that challenges all religious leaders to ask simply how they can hold strong religious beliefs about sexual morality and help save lives through sound evidence-based interventions?

The economic incentive to promote popular yet misinformed non-evidence-based interventions is fading and the survival of these large organizations like World Vision will depend on their ability to serve everyone and to have congruency of theology and praxis. If the contribution of LGBT people to the overall mission of the organization is consistently denied by discriminatory employment practices, the mantle of creating a different value system in the Global South needs to fall upon faith-based organizations that invest in detoxing their staff from years of misinformation about LGBT people and other marginalized vulnerable populations and reaching so they can reach out to everyone in the community. These sensitization program are effective and do work. It should be required that any organization receiving UAID funding should have sensitivity training on how to reach out to vulnerable populations and if they are unwilling to take advantage of these educational opportunities, then defund them. Those who step forward will be the organizations we can proudly partner with and our outcomes and values are consistent with our foreign policies and practices.

Video on “LGBT Rights Abroad: The Spirit Of 76”

The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle participated in a panel on “LGBT Rights Abroad: The Spirit Of 76,” held on Sunday, April 7, 2013 at Washington National Cathedral. Panelists included the Rev. MacDonald Sembereka, adviser to President Joyce Banda of Malawi; Victor Mukasa, founder of Sexual Minorities Uganda Uganda now living in exile in the USA; Catholic layperson and straight ally Maxensia Nakibuuka of Uganda. The host was the Very Rev. Gary Hall, the Dean of the Cathedral.

To view the compelling video of the panel discussion, click HERE.

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.