Ugandan Tragedy, Human Rights, and US Foreign Aid

There are times when the words are hard to find, because the action they are needed to describe is so repugnant that any language in its entirety is insufficient.

A Ugandan gay rights activist, David Kato, was beaten to death with a hammer in his home yesterday, the result of a staggering climate of intolerance that has been fueled by local media, religious leaders and politicians, and in part by discriminatory U.S.-funded programs. There are other theories behind the murder: robbery and a personal dispute to name two. However, it is irresponsible and ignorant to exonerate from guilt the violent rhetoric towards homosexuals, and particularly David Kato, that has been running rampant in Uganda. While the U.S. has condemned egregious examples of rights-violating policies in Uganda, it still funds HIV interventions that are inherently anti-LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) and anti-woman. They assume and reinforce the idea that everyone is heterosexual, everyone is going to get married, and everyone has control over when and with whom they and their partner have sex; ideas that are flat-out wrong and result in useless HIV interventions and rancid discrimination. There is no justification; personal belief and morality are not excuses for perpetuating HIV infection and stigma that leads to slaughter. It stops now.

There are a number of things that need to happen to address this, and they need to happen immediately.

The United States must stop funding Abstinence-Be Faithful focused (AB) HIV interventions right now. U.S. foreign assistance to Uganda reached 5.5 million people in Uganda with AB-focused programs in 2009 alone. Yet these programs have proven to have zero effect on HIV infection rates and are inherently anti-LGBT, anti-woman, and put married women and marginalized persons at risk. Not everyone is heterosexual. Not everyone is going to get married. Many women and girls in developing countries have little to no control over who they have sex with and when; or the faithfulness of their partner. We have a choice: We either continue wasting scarce resources on useless programs or we address discrimination and HIV head-on. Right now, we're perpetuating both.

In addition, the United States must stop funding faith-based organizations that insist on expressions of religion that reinforce societal structures and norms that perpetuate homophobia and women's inequality and discrimination, vulnerabilities to HIV infection, violence, stigmatization, subordination, and abuse.

Religions and traditions are not monolithic, nor are faith-based organizations. Religion can be a positive, liberating force that seeks to ensure that individual human rights are guaranteed and that issues around LGBT rights and women's equality, violence against women and girls, and HIV prevention are addressed. Funding faith-based organizations can be effective. The United States needs to review which faith-based organization it funds, and only fund those that consistently condemn violence and anti-LGBT, anti-woman ideas and programs.

The new chair of the House of Foreign Affairs Committee has called for increased "efficiency" in foreign aid. Here's where we start. AB-focused programs don't work and are inherently discriminatory. So stop funding them. While the words are indeed difficult to find, there are only two that we really need for funding that goes to programs and organizations that promote stigma and discrimination:

Stop. Now. For the sake of David Kato and others who are brave enough not to hide.