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
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 email@example.com.