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RGOD2: Global Equality at San Francisco Pride, a year later

It was only a year ago that the vintage convertible carrying Global Grand Marshal Bishop Christopher Senyonjo rolled down Market Street in San Francisco to the cheers of a million well-wishers at San Francisco Pride. Our theme “Global Equality” won the competition to name Pride’s theme last year. At 80, though rejected by his Anglican Church in Uganda for including LGBT people in his ministry, the Bishop was a hero to the San Franciscan LGBT community. A few weeks later, former President Bill Clinton honored him with a Clinton Global Citizen Award.

Staff reduction by 75%

Yet, this coming week, the bishop’s Kampala-based staff will be cut from 11 full-time employees last year to three because of funding problems. An innovative HIV prevention and care program that has served over 2,000 people will close and the future of a significant sensitization program for health care workers (it basically detoxes them from years of misinformation about LGBT people) remains unresolved.

A grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation established the program, which found that close to 14% of MSM (men who have sex with men) tested in the Centre were HIV-positive, almost twice the number of people from the general Ugandan population. Half of these men are married and have sex with women. Even though the findings of the project have been groundbreaking in a country that criminalizes LGBT people and commercial sex workers, there is no political will either from the U.S. Embassy in Kampala or the Ugandan government to support the program further.

This weekend’s Pride parade in San Francisco will be bittersweet for me because everyone will be celebrating the recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court for LGBT Americans, but we have lost significant ground internationally, as this Ugandan story illustrates. My response to the Supreme Court decision and the need for the U.S. LGBT movement to now focus on the international crisis can be read HERE.

A credibility crisis

It is becoming quite clear that the United States is entering a credibility crisis around the world where we are saying one thing while doing another. When American citizens expose this crisis on a large scale, they are treated like traitors as we see with the recent media attitudes towards Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.

The Obama Administration is facing more challenges when it comes to LGBT rights and how our tax dollars and government representatives abroad implement (or not implement) our official polices towards LGBT people in other countries, particularly in the 76 countries where we are still criminalized. The failure of the St. Paul’s Center in Kampala to get support from our USAID, PEPFAR and even Episcopal Church funding this past year despite many efforts to engage these important gay-inclusive institutions is another photograph of failed American foreign policy, particularly around the intersection of LGBT rights issues and access to health services like HIV prevention and care.

Are gay rights really human rights?

When Secretary Clinton made her historic speech in Geneva in December 2011, “Gay rights are human rights” her speech turned into her most watched and popular video ever made.

President Obama followed with a directive to all U.S. missions and government departments (like the State Department, USAID, the Treasury) to develop implementation plans in all foreign polices within 100 days. The reaction in the Global South to this new policy was overall a negative one and seen as imperialist. The decadent Global North was imposing its immoral values on Bible and Quran-loving citizens of the Global South and even Mother Russia reacted with harsh anti-gay legislation that has polarized the world in a very short time.

Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe and many other African countries have made it more difficult for their LGBT citizens and more inclusive straight allies to function than this time a year ago. The effect of these hardened attitudes and often religiously-led anti-gay pogroms has had a deadly effect on our global ability to share resources with vulnerable populations to prevent the spread of HIV.

Effects on HIV policies

At the International AIDS Conference last year in Washington, D.C, the global community pleaded with governments to remove legal barriers for LGBT people and other criminalized populations as a necessary step to getting to zero new infections, zero deaths and zero discrimination, but we are not seeing any significant change of policy happening to allow this to happen any time soon.

HIV continues to infect and kill people at alarming rates. A recent research project conducted by the American Foundation for AIDS Research reported on the tiny amounts of American funding going to the most vulnerable populations in six Southern African countries over a 10-year period. USAID and PEPFAR continue to support a significant number of faith based programs in much of the African continent that actively support criminalization of LGBT people. It has been widely reported many of these NGOs say they intend to serve LGBT people in their contracts yet when awards are made, they revoke agreements they may have made with emerging LGBT organizations that would never qualify for US government assistance on their own, or simply invent their own definitions of vulnerable populations without censure from our government agencies.

The Ugandan AIDS Commission Chair reportedly claimed LGBT and MSM are not part of the Ugandan definition of vulnerable populations and has replaced them with “fisher folk”. The American Embassy in Kampala has not revoked any contracts and is deliberating on how it might convene a meeting of LGBT service organizations who are struggling to keep their doors open, like the St. Paul’s Center, while fat-cat NGO’s continue to be funded for work they have never done. Many of the policies on LGBT and international aid issues called for by President Obama have not been officially implemented at important departments like USAID.

Is PEPFAR a slush fund for Christian fundamentalists?

PEPFAR was created by President George W. Bush to support the efforts of many conservative faith-based organizations internationally and although there has been a change in Administration, we have yet to see a fair re-distribution of funding to either meet the new challenges faced by new HIV issues or enough resources given to implement LGBT inclusive foreign policies.

USAID has created a 45-minute online self-learning tool on LGBT issues and seems to be content that this will help thousands of Africans who are employed by USAID and the State Department to be more open to LGBT organizations who are desperate for funding for their programs. Clearly what is happening to Bishop Christopher and thousands of his clients must be a wake-up call that our systems are not only failing but are working contrary to our policies.

Is the IRS compliant with our new foreign policies?

In 2010, I reported on a U.S. citizen who had declared his own war on East African gays and opened 50 congregations to oppose LGBT people and support legislation like the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. Bishop Carl Jenkins ministry was widely reported in other media outlets including the local Albany Journal, AOL News and LGBT-related press. He was never investigated by the IRS. We were concerned that a former federal felon was using IRS sponsored funding through his Christ Centered Christian Ministries Worldwide (501c3) and other tax exempt organizations run from his Albany, Georgia address.

Jenkins is a small operator compared to the large multi-national religious NGOs who receive multimillion-dollar government contracts for international aid and share his religious views on homosexuality and the law. Perhaps someone needs to sue the IRS for simply supporting American citizens and organizations who are funding their own foreign policy in places like Africa and let our courts decide if our government is supporting LGBT rights or not. It would appear that we say we do, but our actions and funding priorities speak louder.

The government is not on the same page and our elected officials need to ask the question “Why not?” Hatred and misinformation is being given moral authority through American-supported tax exempt and tax dollars. We need to stop doing this and be consistent. Either the foreign policy is wrong and needs to be restated or we need to support organizations that share our vision and values of inclusion and defund those who do not. This would also include looking at people like Carl Jenkins and asking if his privilege of tax exempt status should be revoked.

Lots of encouragement but lacking support

My own beloved Episcopal Church and other mainstream denominations share in the same brokenness in government policy that I am describing. So none of us can point fingers without some self-reflection on how all our institutions need to look at the chasm between rhetoric and implementation.

Last year at our Episcopal Church General Convention, the Diocese of California introduced Resolution DO71 to expand our support and funding for Non Government Organizations and churches who may be LGBT friendly, but are not supported by their local Anglican Archbishop. Our church polity requires all funding of projects (in Africa, for example) to be approved by the local Archbishop. Many of these Archbishops support criminalization or some form of homophobic response to LGBT people and allies. So this resolution that was passed by our church a year ago was an attempt to continue to support the polity whereby our national relief and development efforts could continue to be approved by Archbishops while dioceses and congregations were encouraged to directly fund LGBT friendly projects in places like Africa.

The intention of the resolution was good but a year later, we have not received any funding from any parish or diocese as yet. So we are about to send out an appeal to our church to support the St. Paul’s Foundation as the conduit for funding these much-need programs. We encourage direct relationship so people can support particular projects or give respite to human rights defenders or clergy who are in the front lines of these dangerous situations abroad.

Meeting last night with some of our supporters in San Francisco in the home of the Rev. John Kirkley, it was good to see the reaction of some local religious and secular organizations to the issues I am describing. Local mobilization is critical so constituents can educate elected officials on what is really happening, demand accountability as well as financially support emerging LGBT organizations and coalitions who are struggling for support. Globalization allows us to be much more engaged in what we can do together for consistent public policy and theological debate in the public square. San Franciscans love these kinds of challenges. We can celebrate the victories of this past week while demanding more from our elected officials and faith leaders to share the love. Again, we are seeing the gap between intention and actual implementation of policies that are equally present in the religious and secular sectors. Both need alignment so we are consistent in what we say and what we do.

This year’s Global Grand Marshal is filmmaker Roger Ross Williams

Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams succeeds Bishop Christopher this year as Global Grand Marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade. His film “God Loves Uganda” is a powerful educational tool to help deepen our exploration of the issues discussed in this article.

Most Americans are totally unaware of what our tax dollars and tax exempt dollars are doing in places like Uganda to millions of LGBT people globally. Thank you to San Francisco for honoring Roger’s courageous leadership and his creative use of media to tell an unknown story. In the meantime, we must find a way for the clients the bishop and others are serving who are much worse off than they were a year ago.

“God Loves Uganda” will premiere in Los Angles on July 16 and in San Diego on July 19, so you can support the film or the cause right HERE. Happy Pride.

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.