How Funders can Respond to Anti-LGBTQI Policies

Facing stigma, marginalization, and even criminalization is not new for the LGBTQI community. But with the proliferation of new and proposed laws in various parts of the world, there seems to be a building fever pitch to the vitriol. The harm from these actions is far reaching and poses an enormous risk to the HIV response.

As funders, what is our role in challenging these actions? What can we do to support our intersectional community, both in the U.S. and internationally?

Recently, Funders Concerned About AIDS hosted a webinar to hear directly from civil society and other experts about what grantmakers can and should be doing. Due to safety concerns, we are not sharing the presentations or speaker names and affiliations. However, we do want to share the valuable context and important recommendations that they provided.

Who is behind the attacks and where is the funding for this movement coming from?

A well-financed and networked set of domestic and international groups has, for many years, organized to challenge LGBTI rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the very concept of gender equality – all populations and issues that intersect with the HIV response. Recently, their efforts have begun to target more specifically access to HIV education, prevention, and treatment. Organizations to be aware of include:

  • Alliance Defending Freedom, a U.S. based legal group, and offshoot Alliance Defending Freedom International, which was also involved in the recent passage of the Ugandan anti-gay law.
  • The Billy Graham Evangelical Association, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, all of which serve different roles of building the catalog of anti LGBTQ rhetoric and dissemination.
  • The World Congress of Families and International Organization for the Family, which actively spread misinformation.
  • CitizenGO, which is currently organizing to influence Kenyan elections.
  • Family Watch International and Empowered Youth Coalition, which are organizing against SRHR and LGBTQ issues in many countries.

And many more. Because the work of this anti-rights movement is so diffuse, it’s difficult to track or to make these organizations accountable in real time. Many of the tactics the movement is using are directly derived from the anti-abortion playbook. All these attacks are interconnected.

NOTE: A 2021 Daily Beast article goes into great depth on the backing of the anti-LGBTQI movement by Christian fundamentalist organizations.

What has the impact of the anti-homosexuality law been in Uganda?

Since the new Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law in Uganda, many queer people have been attacked, driven out of their accommodations, and left unable to access health services due to fear. The law now specifically deputizes citizens – including doctors and medical staff – to report any suspected homosexual activity. This has already led to significant decreases in service utilization at HIV-related clinics, where a positive HIV result could now result in imprisonment, punishment or worse.   It’s also resulted in egregious physical attacks against HIV+ trans people trying to access care. Due to clinics closing or operating at minimal levels, treatment for tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases has also gone down just as mental health problems and gender-based violence have increased. People are in hiding.

The Minister of Health and the Uganda AIDS commission are going district-to-district, urging services to continue for LGBTQI people. The community is stepping up and devising innovative approaches to ensure safety and security measures are in place and to continue service delivery. But if nothing changes, community viral load will be affected, and HIV infections are expected to rise. A recent study in the Lancet found that found that “gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) in countries that criminalize homosexuality are five times more likely to be living with HIV than MSM living in countries that do not criminalize homosexuality. This risk increases to 12 times more likely in settings where there have been legal prosecutions for ‘consensual same-sex sexual acts’ in the past year.”

It is important to note, that similar legislation is currently being written and considered in Kenya and several other countries.

What are the implications of these policies in the U.S.?

According to the Equality Federation, at least 567 bills specifically attacking LGBTQI people and 415 bills attacking transgender people were introduced this year – an all-time high in the U.S.

To date, 23 bills related to HIV criminalization have been introduced across 13 states. Misinformation is still fueling HIV criminalization laws and bills, which carry harsh penalties akin to those given to sex offenders and can include prison terms as long as 15 years.

Recent legal challenges have attempted to restrict access to HIV prevention, reproductive healthcare, and harm reduction under the guise of “religious freedom.” For example, the Braidwood v. Becerra case in Texas (currently on hold pending an appeal in the 5th Circuit) would limit the preventative services that insurance is required to cover under the Affordable Care Act, including cancer screenings, HIV prevention, and contraception. As analyzed by AIDS United, the decision “…pits preexposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a medicine that prevents HIV, against religious objections raised through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”  The attorneys behind this legal challenge — including an author of Texas’ anti-abortion law, a proponent of sodomy laws, and Stephen Miller from America First Legal — demonstrates the intersectional nature of anti-equality actors. 

Finally, what was expected to be a routine legal reauthorization of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – historically a bipartisan program – is in the crosshairs of conservative and anti-abortion activists, including the Heritage Foundation, who are trying to paint the program as a source of funding for abortion.  

How can the community respond to this hate movement?

The presenters had five recommendations for how to prepare for and respond to the anti-LGBTQI movement:

  1. Discover. The different actors behind anti-LGBTI, anti-SRHR, and anti-gender movement shifts and change all the time. Therefore, we must be proactive with a research agenda that continually assesses the landscape and identifies current and emerging organizations involved in the anti-LGBTQI movement.
  2. Disarm. With research in hand, we will be better prepared to educate policymakers on the anti-gender campaign and the players involved.
  3. Dislocate. Many of these actors are seeking legitimacy near political power. By highlighting their background as hate groups, they can be rejected from high-level positions.
  4. De-monetize. A great deal of public money is going to the wrong organizations. We need to have specific efforts to stop funding from going in harmful directions.
  5. Defend. We need to ask ourselves, are human rights as well defended as we think they are? We need to defend individuals on the front lines of these attacks and proactively strengthen legal protections.  

What can funders do?

  • Fund pre-emptively. Don’t wait for an emergency. Use Uganda, Ghana, and Kenya as templates to prepare for the worst-case scenario. We must engage and fund earlier in order to stop the contagion of hate.
  • Plan ahead. Even though current attacks may be centered on the LGBTQ community, it’s already spilling over to attacks on abortion and sex education. We need to anticipate that it won’t end here.
  • Be flexible. Allow for reallocation and restructuring without layers of bureaucracy and provide long-term funding.
  • Fund holistically. Fund those who can shield LGBTQ activists from attacks and support issues like wellness and self-care that will help the community face these issues.
  • Assess your current grantees. Progressive grants can sometimes be used to fuel the opposition, as grantees are weaponized against their own funders.
  • Be advocates. We must use our voices to convince governments and the public to push back on unhealthy, oppressive laws.

As a community, one of our greatest weaknesses is that we tend to work in siloes. The message from this webinar was clear: we must work together to fight this movement of hate. We must defend all human rights. We need global and regional solidarity. We need each other more than ever.