Concerned that Ebola could become the next HIV/AIDS epidemic, the San Francisco-based Rainbow World Fund called upon LGBTs to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
“We can’t allow history to repeat itself,” said Jeff Cotter, a gay man who’s founder and president of RWF, calling upon LGBTs to “stand in solidarity with Ebola survivors.”
“The AIDS epidemic taught us to be involved with the problems of others before they affect us,” he added.
Cotter recalled the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic when then-President Ronald Reagan, along with many other U.S. and world leaders, ignored what came to be the AIDS pandemic.
“The way that AIDS has been allowed to spread around the world is a reflection of our old ways of seeing the world and treating each other,” said Cotter, recalling that many people believed as long as the virus wasn’t affecting them it was allowed to continue to spread.
“The Ebola virus was ignored for decades because it was only affecting poor communities in Africa,” he said.
One thing that HIV/AIDS taught the LGBT community, as well as the world, is what can happen when a threat is perceived as someone else’s problem.
Cotter’s concerns are based on current World Health Organization estimates that at the current rate of infection more than 1 million people could be infected by January, according to an October 25 call to action.
“I believe that we are living in a time when we need to expand what the definition of what home is and realize that the entire planet is our home and everyone in it is our family,” said Cotter.
Antiquated fear tactics
Meanwhile, Liberian LGBTs are in fear of their lives not just because of homophobia, but because religious leaders are blaming gays, fueling people’s apprehension caused by the public health crisis.
The Ebola outbreak is sweeping West African nations Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
Liberia has been hit the worst with 4,665 total cases and 2,705 deaths so far. To date, the epidemic has infected a total of 10,114 individuals and killed 4,912 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
Ebola has also hit Nigeria and Senegal, but new cases haven’t been reported in these countries since mid-September. The WHO officially declared these countries free of Ebola virus transmission October 17 and 20, respectively, according to the CDC website.
Liberian religious leaders in the impoverished nation ravaged first by civil war and now the Ebola crisis have been telling citizens that Ebola is a “punishment from God for homosexuality,” according to media reports.
“Since church ministers declared Ebola was a plague sent by God to punish sodomy in Liberia the violence toward gays has escalated,” Leroy Ponpon, an LGBT campaigner in the Liberian capital of Monrovia told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “They’re even asking for the death penalty. We’re living in fear.”
Ponpon has been in hiding after his photo and phone number appeared on the front pages of local media and police won’t help, he said.
A curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. complicates his late night travels. Violation of the curfew is punishable by imprisonment, Ponpon told the media outlet.
Life was already harsh for LGBTs in Liberia, in which homosexuality is taboo in local communities and criminalized by law. In Liberia, homosexuality is punishable with a penalty up to a year in jail, according to the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has publicly stated that she won’t overturn the law.
Similar attacks on LGBTs in other African nations affected by the Ebola outbreak haven’t been reported, according to Francois Patuel, a West Africa campaigner for Amnesty International.
Ebola echoes AIDS
The first Ebola outbreak occurred in 1976 in Sudan and Zaire where more than 284 people were infected; a little more than half died. A few months later a second wave of an Ebola outbreak infected 318 people, killing 88 percent of infected individuals. A little more than a decade passed before a third strain was discovered in some monkeys in 1989, with the last known strain discovered in 1994 when an ethnologist was accidentally infected while performing a necropsy on a dead chimpanzee from the Ivory Coast. Ebola’s natural reservoir was never identified, according to Stanford University.
Cotter said RWF, an LGBT global humanitarian organization that has donated $4.1 million in aid since its founding, is working with Africare, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that raises funds in the African American community to aid Africa, to get medical assistance and supplies to workers on the ground to arrest the spread of this deadly virus.
The fund has worked with Africare since 2004, said Cotter. Donations will go directly toward fighting the Ebola epidemic.
To help fight the Ebola crisis, donate at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1210623, or mail a check to Rainbow World Fund: 4111 18th Street, Suite 5, San Francisco, CA 94114.
LGBT activists charged in Italian ‘kiss in’
Six Italian LGBT activists were charged with disturbing the peace for staging a “kiss in” at an anti-gay protest in March.
The activists – three men and three women – were notified October 7 of the charges against them for the spontaneous protest against an anti-gay group Sentinelle in Piedi (translated Standing Sentries) in Perugia, Italy.
Police reported that two of the male activists engaged in a “long and passionate kiss,” in front of children, teens, and their families. According to the police report, passersby were allegedly “disgusted” by the demonstration, reported media outlets.
The anti-gay Standing Sentries have been staging demonstrations against same-sex marriage and efforts to include LGBT people in hate crime protections as well as members holding silent prayer vigils in plazas.
Human Rights Watch called for the charges to be dropped.
“Gay men and lesbian women kissing in public is not a crime,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at HRW.
Sunderland stated that the activists’ actions were “clearly protected by their right to peaceful protest.”
This isn’t the first clash between LGBT and anti-gay activists, reported Gay Star News.
Earlier this month LGBT activists disrupted prayer vigils hosted by Standing Sentries in Trento, Torino, Naples, and Bologna.
Italy, which ranks fourth among LGBT travelers, according to Community Marketing Inc.’s LGBT tourism survey in 2013, and resonates as a country of love and poetry, has struggled with embracing its LGBT citizens in recent years.
Currently, a battle has been brewing as some cities and towns have begun to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside of Italy, but the government doesn’t plan on legally enshrining marriage equality anytime soon, unlike some other European nations.
Earlier this month, Angelino Alfano, the interior minister of Italy, ordered the municipalities to stop the registrations, claiming that they had no legal basis.
Some mayors are defying Alfano’s order. On October 18, Ignazio Marino, mayor of Rome, registered 16 same-sex marriages, reported the Global Post.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has promised to introduce legislation legally recognizing same-sex couples relationships by January, reported the newspaper.