I’m torn about the debate being held among many gays in the cyberworld about foreign aid to countries that regularly abuse gay people or deny them civil rights. Unfortunately, the countries we’re discussing are African countries, so there’s a bit of anti-black prejudice that gets slung about in these debates. But the core question is a good one: should countries like the U.S. or the U.K. reconsider foreign aid to some of these countries on the basis of their records of gay rights? Both UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have amped up their language condemning anti-gay countries, with Cameron even hinting at pulling aid in response to the anti-gay abuse.
It’s a tough call, and I’m not sure where I stand on this issue: on the one hand, you don’t want to implicitly support a homophobic regime by donating money to its coffers. But, cutting off aid can devastate the region, plunging it into a humanitarian crisis that will affect LGBT folks, as well. I also am finding it difficult to imagine foreign aid being tied to conditions.
The truth is gays in many countries in Africa, most notably Uganda, are suffering under the threat of violence and death. Their governments are not responding to their needs and in fact are hostile to them. This can be explained as a cultural difference, a gap that Western countries cannot get behind, nor understand. Still, it’s difficult to understand or excuse this behavior when thinking about the gay men and women in these countries who must build their lives in fear.
But it would be a mistake to think that if aid is cut, the lives of LGBT people in Africa would be better. I’m not sure if it’s possible, but they could become worse. The countries are often on the brink of collapse and chaos, due to crushing poverty, corrupt governments and looming tribal war. Pulling whatever aid that reaches these people might cause a humanitarian disaster that would destabilize the region and plunge the people into years of suffering.
With this in mind, Cameron, President Obama and other leaders have to tread this road very lightly and carefully. Clinton was right to bluntly declare the Obama Administration’s contempt for homophobia and anti-gay violence in many of these countries. Cameron, on the other hand, may have jumped the gun a bit, in introducing the idea of pulling aid in response to anti-gay violence.
Some of the leaders of the countries in question have responded to these threats with indignation, reminding the West that they are not a nation of children, deserving scolding and punishment. In a sense, that’s correct – when dealing with another country, even when it is reliant on for foreign aid, the West should respond with respect for its cultural singularity. Gay rights won’t be won by isolating a country.
I know that in response lots of folks will disagree and point out that we often intervene on the basis of human rights (i.e. Libya) and that this issue should be no different. Others will point out to the devastation of Rwanda and our country’s unwilligness to act, which probably allowed for the deaths of thousands. And they would all have valid points. This issue doesn’t have a clear “right, wrong” answer – instead we are mired in a lot of gray. We don’t want to continue to support anti-gay nations by issuing checks, but we also don’t want the citizens of these places to suffer because their governments are dysfunctional.
The best response in going forward is using our considerable diplomatic muscle, parallel with incentives to convince these countries that being LGBT-inclusive is beneficial for their well being. Cutting off aid will only hurt the people that the West is supposed to try and help.