Vigilance in Supporting HIV/AIDS Charities
As a member of the HIV/AIDS community, I know how important it is to be vigilant when we support groups that raise funds using our cause as their own. We have seen scandals in fundraising over the years, from people who simply claim to collect funds to support our community and then abscond with the money, to groups that use an inordinate amount of their raised funds for “administrative” costs. I am reminded of one of the biking events that raised money for AIDS in the past and which came under scrutiny and criticism for donating a disproportionately small amount of money to the actual charity they supported. Many of us also remember the scandal surrounding Dionne Warwick’s “That’s What Friends Are For” benefit song and how there were allegations of wrong-doing in the management of that charity. Even if there were no true problems with the management of the charity, the scandal left a wary audience in the AIDS community. When we are living with illness and hoping for a cure, it is extremely disconcerting to plant the idea that someone, anyone or any entity actually, would use our illness as a means of profiting and padding their own pockets. Look at ACT UP and its role in pharmaceutical industry activism, for example.
Recently I have learned of what is perhaps a more dubious kind of issue. It has surfaced in the past few years with the advent of George W. Bush’s “faith-based initiatives.” A while ago, I posted a blog entry about a "red ribbon" bracelet that was given to me by a friend. It was, at the time, the perfect gift for me. It represented an effort to focus education on the African-American community about HIV transmission and AIDS. In a day where African-American women aged 25-44 find AIDS to be their leading cause of death, I am all for increasing access to education. I was thrilled with the gift and still am indebted to my friend for thinking of me when he saw the bracelet.
I exchanged emails with the sponsor of this campaign and praised her for her efforts. Soon, though, I found the website for the charity to be questionable in some way that I could not articulate. It seemed geared as much to saving souls as to saving lives. This alone was not specifically what concerned me, but I could not yet clarify why I was uneasy. In a flurry of emails, I tried to learn if her organization was gay-affirming. At first, the lady claimed not to understand my question. After I had reworded my question several times, she seemed unable to answer the question at all. Finally, I asked her point blank if her organization supported LGBTQ people equally and with dignity. Her response to me was that I had offended her. She never answered the question. I removed the link to her site from my blog, simply because I could not obtain clarification on the intent of her organization with respect to the LGBTQ community.
This proved to be quite disappointing to me. I have since returned to her website and have found that now her organization does, indeed, provide links to reputable gay and lesbian advocacy groups. All references to religion and Christianity seem to have been removed, with the exception of the banner that flashes the silhouettes of buildings and crucifixes across the screen. Perhaps others have worked with this group and there has been a meeting of the minds for the common good. I can only hope that this is the case. I am sorry that I have found it necessary to cut my ties with this organization, because I truly believe we all need to be allied to fight this pandemic.
This week, I was approached by another organization that is heavily influenced by a Christian approach to the AIDS crisis, but the outcome and tone of the discussion has been entirely different. Eric Krock of AIDSvideos.org approached me about placing a link to his site on my blog. This organization creates and provides free videos on HIV/AIDS issues. When I read the mission statement of this organization, I learned the following and was relieved to see it put in writing that:
- committed to scientific and medical accuracy
not for profit
open to all people regardless of race, gender, religious belief or nonbelief, nationality, national origin, sexual orientation, etc.
AIDSvideos.org does not take any position on questions such as:
which sexual acts between which people are allowed according to various belief systems
the origin and nature of sexual orientation or sexual preference and whether it is fixed or can vary over time
the existence or nonexistence and nature of God
which religion, if any, is the "right" one
“AIDSvideos.org recognizes that people who are involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, including those of us at AIDSvideos.org, do so for various reasons and are sometimes motivated by a personal belief system. Similarly, people who are HIV positive may find personal belief systems relevant in their effort to lead a healthy life. As a result, people interviewed by AIDSvideos.org may at times make passing references to their own belief systems. Similarly, people who are part of an organization addressing HIV/AIDS may describe the nature of their organization and how addressing HIV/AIDS fits in to the organization's mission. However, such statements are the responsibility of the speaker only and do not necessarily represent the opinion of AIDSvideos.org.”
Once I had looked into the content of the videos that were offered, I found a disproportionate number that were based in Christian belief. I wrote to the gentleman who asked me to link to his site and asked him directly the following question:
“Can you assure me that your programs are not based in a strict approach of
Christian moral values that put spiritual conversion into the equation for
treatment and prevention?”
Having learned from my past experience, I had honed my question to the specific issue that concerns me when dealing with faith-based organizations. I received a very gracious email from the founder of this program. He explained to me that “this web site is not one for Christian evangelism. There are some speakers who allude to their own beliefs and motivations in describing their HIV/AIDS activism and over time I hope to find Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc. who are also willing to speak on the topic. I in fact asked some Muslim friends for a suggestion and emailed the Buddhist AIDS Project in SF but those inquiries didn't bear fruit.’
“The site will absolutely talk about behaviors (e.g. having unprotected sex with multiple partners increases your risk), but we're not going to tell people to do something because Christ/Buddha/Mohammed/whoever said so. Rather, we'll talk about personal responsibility, taking care of your own life and that of others, etc.”
I can live with this approach because my concern is not about freedom of religion. I firmly believe that each of us should have the option of finding support in ways that are appropriate to our individual lives. If we present an option for all people who come to seek help, we will reach more of the human community than if we limit the voices that can be heard. Mr. Krock is now seeking voices from all facets of the HIV/AIDS community to produce videos about their experiences and to include them all on his site. As such, I am willing to link to his site and to offer him my assistance in any way that I can.
If you are specifically in the San Francisco Bay area and are living with HIV/AIDS, or have a viewpoint about the disease that you feel needs to be presented and you have the means to produce a video tape, please email Mr. Krock about how you may be of assistance to him.
Categories: HIV AIDS HIV/AIDS charities film education prevention resources