Today I share a guest post written by Brad Ogilvie. He shares personal insights about how HIV/AIDS activism by some players has specifically overlooked LGBTQ people at home and abroad. He considers how HIV/AIDS is being used to export homophobia.
HIV/AIDS, Marriage, and Bedfellows
by Brad Ogilvie
As we celebrate the approval of gay marriage here in the US, it is important pay homage to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, those who have died from AIDS and the early HIV/AIDS activists. This isn’t just to give credit where credit is due. It is because they helped fuel and speed up the gay rights movement here in the US, and ignoring this is also ignoring how HIV/AIDS is being used to export homophobia. What is most troubling about this is that the collusion is coming not only from expected places like Evangelical churches and social conservatives, but also people like Bono, Bill Gates and Bill Clinton whose AIDS focus on women and children provides cover for the anti-gay pipeline.
Starting in the late 1990’s, political, social and theological conservatives such as Senator Jesse Helms and Congressman Henry Hyde caused mini-tremors by starting to advocate for AIDS funding, but with a laser focus on Africa. Senator Helms had long been vocal in blaming gays as the cause of the AIDS pandemic, and he led opposition to funding for HIV/AIDS programs through much of the 1980’s and ‘90s. But he led the way for others of his ideology to enter the “global” HIV/AIDS fight. Bono took it from there, starting with his December, 2002 tour calling attention to AIDS in Africa. Evangelicals such as Rick and Kay Warren joined forces. Bono made it not just comfortable but chic (i.e. “The Red Campaign” t-shirts) for many to jump on the HIV/AIDS bandwagon. This paved the way for George W. Bush to create PEPFAR, and this opened the flood gates for much of the conservative faith community to engage. The focus on women and children in sub-Saharan Africa provided a comfort zone but does little to get ahead of the transmission.
I was at Wheaton (IL) College the night Bono came to town. I was running an AIDS housing program in Wheaton. I was running an AIDS housing program as well as being an HIV+ and gay Wheaton resident. To see Bono energize a community that had been silent and even scornful of anything related to HIV/AIDS afforded me a somewhat unique perspective on what has transpired since then. I was able to build alliances and life-long friendships within the Wheaton College and Evangelical community that continues to move me and inspire my work.
But the focus on women and children in Africa continues to allow people to homophobically engage in AIDS work. Among the messages I heard in meetings were “People with AIDS in Africa are victims, whereas people in the US deserve it” and “We choose to do our AIDS work in Africa because we don’t have to deal with homosexuality”. Former Congressman Henry Hyde went so far as to tell me, “I don’t want to hear about AIDS in (my district); I only want to talk about Africa.”
Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse offer a clear example of how this continues to play out. Samaritan’s Purse, which pays Graham handsomely, provides “Biblically based programs to strengthen the international Christian response to HIV/AIDS (in 42 countries). This ministry encourages individuals to seek counseling and testing, supports AIDS orphans and vulnerable children, and empowers churches overseas to teach their communities about the disease and promote choices that will keep young people out of harm’s way” (from their website). Graham, meanwhile, lines his and others pockets as he crusades against gay rights, including supporting Vladimir Putin’s stance on gay rights and pressuring World Vision to reverse a policy that allowed the hiring of married gays and lesbians. Apparently, providing help to “hurting people” does not include those Graham deems unworthy. Others, such as Scott Lively, blatantly support anti-gay efforts, while people like Rick Warren do double-speak – denouncing anti-gay legislation while denouncing homosexuality. It is where people share the “HIV in Africa” message while ignoring the homophobic mechanisms that the harm happens.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent on the things that matter.” – ML King
When will the likes of Bono speak up? The HIV/AIDS pandemic will not end in a culture that creates blindspots, criminalizes and stokes fear and hatred towards people that are most vulnerable. The real work to end the pandemic has to be all-inclusive – not just gay men in the West, and not just women and children in Africa. Gay people exist in Africa and their status as pariahs impede HIV prevention efforts. But it’s not just Bono. All of us who are reaping the benefits of those who worked on our behalf because of AIDS need to speak up for those who are now suffering. We need to recognize how the HIV/AIDS pandemic that helped advance gay rights here is creating deadly alliances elsewhere. Our silence is killing them.