Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It Is a Big Deal

Someone needs to explain to Bill Gates that the proposed Ugandan law that would execute people for being gay is, in fact, a “big deal.”

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has done tremendous work on global health issues through his foundation — including donating hundreds of millions of dollars to fight HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. But in a recent interview with the Seattle Times, Gates passed on an opportunity to denounce the potential law, suggesting that it’s not very important:

Q: Looking at health efforts in Africa, such as HIV prevention and treatment, are you concerned about the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill, and have you spoken to anyone there about it?

A: The spread of AIDS is a huge problem and obviously we’re very involved. I talk in my letter about the great success with this male circumcision effort, and preventative drug trials. There’s a tendency to think in the U.S. just because a law says something that it’s a big deal. In Africa if you want to talk about how to save lives, it’s not just laws that count. There’s a stigma no matter what that law says, for sex workers, men having sex with men, that’s always been a problem for AIDS. It relates to groups that aren’t that visible. AIDS itself is subject to incredible stigma. Open involvement is a helpful thing. I wouldn’t overly focus on that. In terms of how many people are dying in Africa, it’s not about the law on the books; it’s about getting the message out and the new tools.

Getting the message out and finding new tools to fight a disease doesn’t really matter that much if there is a government effort out to jail and execute people who are gay, regardless of their HIV status; AIDS is being spread by heterosexuals in Africa, too. And so is ignorance.