Are Pope Benedict's recent incendiary comments about condoms promoting AIDS directed at gay men in Africa?

For a pope already on record against being gay, the question needs to be asked. En route to Africa, Benedict said: “One cannot overcome the problem (of AIDS) with the distribution of condoms,” the pope responded when a reporter asked the Catholic Church's position on fighting AIDS. “On the contrary, they increase the problem” by promoting promiscuity.

The United States – the largest giver of aid to Africa – created a foreign aid policy that marginalized gays, sex workers and IV drug users under President Bush. Bush's PEPFAR pushed an ideological abstinence-only policy based on religious dogma over sound health policy in countries hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic, most of them in Africa where 22 million people are infected with HIV.

Within hours of being inaugurated, President Obama fired Mark Dybul (an openly gay man) as head of PEPFAR, signaling to the world that the age of proselytizing morality under the guise of AIDS care was at an end.

Many African leaders have unequivocally stated that PEPFAR increased HIV transmissions by ignoring the cultural behaviors present in their countries fueling the pandemic.

In Nigeria where researchers say 80% of the HIV-infected population has acquired the disease through heterosexual sexual contact, lawmakers doggedly continue to push for laws against gay men and women, arguing they are attempting to break the links between “sodomy” and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Pope Benedict recently attempted to elevate an Austrian priest to bishop who called Katrina “divine retribution” for New Orleans' tolerance of gays and lesbians and continues to call for the ouster of Socialists in Spain for legalizing gay marriage in 2005. Such anti-gay tirades give African leaders more rope to hang themselves with; more fodder for unsound practices that keep the pandemic alive and killing, while leaders continue to blame the bloodshed on gay men and women.

So long as gay men and lesbians are made the scapegoat of the pandemic in Africa, real solutions will be hard to come by. Condoms are increasingly associated not only with birth control on the continent, but also being gay.

Nine such men were recently given harsh eight year prison sentences in Senegal. The men were found to be guilty of being gay after they were found to be in possession of condoms. Ironically, all of the men worked at an HIV/AIDS health clinic.

If condoms have been linked to being gay in Africa, where many countries have outlawed the practice, then heightening an unsound link between HIV and condoms would serve to prompt up the arguments being used by social conservatives pushing for harsher laws against gays – a push already underway in many African nations where anti-gay sentiment has reached a boiling point in recent years.

The Gay Slant is a weekly feature of On Top Magazine. Walter Weeks is a writer for On Top and can be reached at