Pressure mounts on Aid for AIDS Nevada

Late yesterday, posted an article in response to my post about Aid for AIDS Nevada (AFAN). The AIDS services organization is now the target of a petitionfrom asking AFAN to denounce Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.’s Michael Jones makes the case for action from AFAN:

It’s quite the sticky situation. AFAN hosts an AIDS Walk. It allows Canyon Ridge Christian Church to march in it as a legitimate participant. Yet at the same time, Canyon Ridge Christian Church is financially supporting a man who would sooner see gay HIV-positive people murdered than taken care of or treated.

As the largest AIDS service organization in Nevada, AFAN no doubt does some critical work. But they’re failing their constituents, clients, and the Nevada community at large by not addressing Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s partnership with Ugandan ministers who want to write into law one of the most criminalizing laws toward HIV-positive people in the world.

However, AFAN’s Executive Director doesn’t see the problem. In an email, late last evening, AFAN’s leader, Jennifer Morss, said AFAN has no partnership with Canyon Ridge:

We do not partner with Canyon Ridge.  In fact, we are simply a recipient of their donations in support of our lifesaving, essential programming for individuals surviving HIV/AIDS…we are not able to cease a partnership that does not exist.

Ms. Morss also said she could not say what AFAN would do next year since they had not starting planning for the 2011 AIDS Walk.

In contrast to Ms. Morss reaction, the AFAN Facebook page has been buzzing with requests for them to sever ties with Canyon Ridge. The Red Ribbon Army, a Facebook group of over 500,000 members twice posted requests for AFAN to clarify their position on Canyon Ridge. The first comment was removed from the page by AFAN. The last two comments read:

The Red Ribbon Army  We deserve an answer. Aid for AIDS of Nevada owes us the courtesy of replying and letting us know exactly why it is that they are partnering with a church that is sponsoring murder.


The Red Ribbon Army The organization targeted by this petition has removed our post from their fb page (as described in this article). We ask again Aid for AIDS of Nevada! Do you support the Uganda death penalty bill for gays living with HIV/AIDS?

Truth Wins Out, Mike Tidmus and Michael Bussee and others (some deleted)have also posted comments asking for a clear statement from AFAN.

In June, Canyon Ridge Christian Church pastor, Kevin Odor, used the church relationship with AFAN (CRCC’s team page here) as a point of defense against charges of inconsistency due to support for Martin Ssempa. Describing a conversation with NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty, Rev. Odor said at about 11:25 into the video:

Well, we care about AIDS in Africa, you know what, we care about AIDS in Clark County. For the last five years, members of our church have organized themselves and marched in the AFAN parade – Aid for AIDS of Southern Nevada. And we show up and we raise money and we help support the that organization that helps take care of people in Southern Nevada with AIDS and their families that are dealing with it.

Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin posted an unanswered letterto AFAN and raised concerns about CRCC’s use of their participation in the AIDS Walk as a means of image management.

Anyone who reads the the Anti-Homosexuality Bill can see how tragic CRCC’s position is. I believe many of their members do care about Uganda; they raised $30,000 one Christmas to buy farm animals for Ugandan families and they support the staff of Makerere Community Church. However, the stance of their Ugandan partner has been a hindrance to AIDS work there, especially among gays and bisexuals.

Elsewhere I have discussed how the AHB could also undo AIDS progress among straights. One of my sources of information on AIDS in Uganda is Dr. Ed Green at Harvard, and a former colleague of Martin Ssempa. In the past, Dr. Green recommended Ssempa’s work. Ssempa still has this recommendation posted on his website. However, Dr. Green would like it removed, telling me in a July email:

I asked Martin Ssempa in a very clear and direct manner to remove my name from his site. I checked and you are right: he has not done so.

Will AFAN lead on the question of what is good in the AIDS arena? So far, they are MIA and allowing an opportunity for dialogue about what caring for AIDS here and in Africa means to slip away.

Las Vegas AIDS support group silent on partnership with Canyon Ridge

In June, Canyon Ridge Christian Church ended the silence regarding their mission partner, Martin Ssempa, saying that the church leaders met with the chief pastoral supporter of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill in March.  Church leaders said they regarded some of Ssempa’s methods to be “offensive” but continued to support him. Pastor Kevin Odor said the church hoped to maintain a relationship which would allow CRCC to influence their Ugandan mission partner.

However, Pastor Odor misrepresented the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by saying the bill was designed to close gaps in Ugandan law by providing penalties for child molesters and those who intentional spread HIV.  In fact, the bill provides life in prison for those convicted of homosexual intimacy and death for “repeat offenders” or those who engage in consensual relationships while HIV positive. The bill also provides criminal penalties for those who know someone who is gay but do not report this to police.

In the sermon where Pastor Odor described the church’s response to Pastor Ssempa, he reminded the congregation that they walked in the local AIDS Walk as an illustration of the church’s commitment to helping those suffering with AIDS. That local AIDS group is Aid for AIDS Nevada (AFAN).

On April 25, AFAN hosted the AIDS Walk with numerous community groups and individuals participating. Canyon Ridge organized a team which is listed on the AFAN website and is open to public members. According to a walker who declined to be named, a group of church folks wore t-shirts displaying the church name and marched in the April event. The church team raised $1385 for AFAN.

I contacted AFAN before I found this information on their website. When I did, one staffer I spoke with declined to comment but forwarded my request to the director, Jennifer Morss. I then wrote Ms. Morss two additional emails asking for comment on the relationship with Canyon Ridge and the recent action of Southern Nevada Health to sever ties with the church.

To date, I have gotten no answer. Last week, I went on the Facebook group for AFAN and left a comment on their wall asking for a PR person from AFAN to contact me. Initially, that comment was answered with a recommendation that I contact Terri Maruca, Vice President at Kirvin Doak Communications. When I contacted Ms. Maruca, she replied that someone from the staff would contact me next (now this) week. In the mean time, Michael Bussee also left a request for public comment on the AFAN Facebook group wall. Sometime in mid-week last week, both of those comments were removed by the owner of the AFAN group. Currently, Mr. Bussee has another request for public comment on the AFAN wall.

This silence is puzzling. The partnership is minimal but real. All such partnerships provide benefit to both groups. AFAN gets donations and connections to diverse constituents and CRCC gets a reputation for community involvement and concern for those with HIV. Furthermore, I do not mean to diminish this, those who walk and donate are probably motivated by a sincere desire to help.

However, the dissonance is jarring. CRCC seems to be involved in commendable activities but in this case has partnered with Martin Ssempa to mislead many people about the real nature of the Ugandan bill. Just over the weekend, the Ugandan Daily Monitor made it crystal clear what Anti-Homosexuality Bill author, David Bahati, believes about how the state should react to homosexuals:

Bahati accuses the rich for trying to influence the world with their homosexuality agenda, which he calls a great threat to society and the future generation.

“This habit is learned and can be unlearned,” he adds, quoting the Bible: “Homosexuality is an abomination punishable by death.” When I asked him how, as a Christian, he can advocate for a death penalty, he replied, “It is in Leviticus. Go and read – the penalty for homosexuality is death.”

I suspect it would be quite offensive to many walking in the AIDS walk to know that a church that provides cover for the AHB campaign is a recognized partner of the group hosting the event. Such an event could not happen in Uganda if the bill passes.

From the beginning of this story, I have been interested in how Americans respond to the AHB. Thus far, I cannot discern the stance of AFAN since they have been silent. While I don’t believe AFAN supports the AHB or even CRCC in any direct manner, the silence and removal of comments is surprising.

UPDATE: Mr. Bussee’s most recent comment was deleted.