In July, I reported that, despite promises President Obama made on the campaign trail, the federal government was still providing millions of dollars in grants for HIV-prevention programming to anti-gay, anti-choice evangelical groups at home and abroad, particularly in Africa. Newly filed 2013 tax documents and a grant tracking website at the Department of Health and Human Services have revealed that one controversial evangelical organization I profiled, the Children’s AIDS Fund (CAF), has again been awarded federal funding. In June 2014, CAF Uganda received $1.5 million as part of a multiyear HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention program. That brings the total CAF Uganda has received since the start of Obama’s second term to at least $6.6 million.
This direct funding isn’t CAF’s only source of federal money. The organization is also a sub-grantee of Catholic Relief Services via the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Response, or PEPFAR, in Zambia. According to Catholic Relief Services’ most recent tax returns, from 2011–12, that subgrant amounted to $2.1 million.
CAF openly takes positions that make it ill-suited to deliver public health programming, particularly on HIV/AIDS. Here’s how I described it:
[CAF founders Shepherd and Anita Smith] have been vehement foes of what they see as the corrupting influence of LGBT organizations in the field of AIDS relief. In a 2001 speech to the conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America (CWA), Anita said, “What we have here is a power struggle between homosexual white men who abuse all the government AIDS programs fundamentally to fund their subculture and their political activities.” And the Smiths continue to align themselves with right-wing “pro-family” organizations. In 2011, for example, the Smiths were featured speakers at the Moscow Demographic Summit, sponsored by the anti-gay World Congress of Families, where the couple spoke alongside representatives of CWA; the Population Research Institute, which promotes the threat of a “demographic winter” if white Christians don’t reproduce in greater numbers; and the Family Research Council. In Uganda, the couple became close allies of Pastor Martin Ssempa, best known for his public condom burnings and anti-gay diatribes, who strongly pushed the anti-homosexuality bill. In 2004, Ssempa became a PEPFAR subgrantee. The Smiths’ support helped his work get noticed in Washington, and in 2005 he testified on Capitol Hill.
I recently learned that CAF’s sway over the US’s global AIDS response goes beyond program implementation. In April, Dr. Deborah Birx became the highest-ranking government official in charge of US efforts to combat global AIDS when she was appointed global AIDS coordinator, an ambassador position housed at the State Department. According to PEPFAR estimates, Birx is responsible for overseeing the distribution of approximately $6.5 billion in PEPFAR funds around the globe.