Two of the things that pissed me off the most in the Bush Administration were the Global Gag Rule and a law that required US groups working internationally to fight AIDS to denounce prostitution in order to get federal funding. I was very happy last week to hear that one court, at least, found the latter policy unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Given the massive destructive impact of using funding to silence NGOs, I’m thrilled to hear that a court has recognized the free speech implications here. Unfortunately, this only applies to funding for American groups, but it is a first step. Why is this so important?
You can’t fight a disease without recognizing the circumstances under which it spreads and without understanding why people do or do not seek treatment for it. Denouncing sex work is a pointless, moralistic requirement that actively harms a group’s ability to get treatment and prevention help to those who actually need it. If we’re going to fight HIV and AIDS, we need to destigmatize both the disease and the populations it impacts. We also need to look at circumstances that impact its transmission, including violently restrictive policies against sex work, widespread rape, unequal marriages, homophobia, transphobia, police abuse, and drug use. We need NGOs to learn about the populations they support and understand context before providing resources. We need to stop overlaying one culture onto the entire world.
I hope this ruling is just the first in a long series of steps in the right direction.