USAID funded network overseeing clinics that practice 'conversion therapy'

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A counselor at one of those hospitals in Uganda claimed that sex without procreation 'becomes evil' and suggested a gay teen could become straight if introduced to the right 'housemaid.'

A new report claims the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, funded networks that run clinics in Uganda which practice "conversion therapy," a dangerous "treatment" that claims to be able to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

An investigation released on Wednesday by the U.K.-based site openDemocracy found that USAID gave $420,000 to a network called the Most At Risk Populations Initiative that runs an HIV clinic at Mulago National Specialised Hospital in Uganda. A receptionist at the clinic allegedly informed an undercover reporter that the clinic could connect their gay teenage brother to an anti-gay counselor and a former patient who "was once a homosexual."

"Whoever wants to quit homosexuality, we connect them," the receptionist allegedly said.

The investigation also explained that there were reports of "conversion therapy" being practiced at three hospitals in the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau network, which received $1 million from USAID between 2019 and April of this year.

A counselor connected to one of those hospitals allegedly told the same undercover reporter that sex without procreation "becomes evil" and suggested the reporter "get a housemaid" between the ages of 18 and 20 that their gay brother could "get attracted [to]," in order to supposedly change his sexual orientation, openDemocracy reported.

Another counselor allegedly told the reporter that they could offer a single session of conversion therapy for the equivalent of $14, adding that a "17 [year-old] is still a small child we can modify."

One counselor called homosexuality a "mental issue," claiming that "once you start having sex with the same sex, much as those whites are saying 'it's normal,' in our society it's abnormal. And anything to do with abnormality has something to do with mental health."

In a later statement to openDemocracy, the same counselor appeared to defend the practice by saying it was consensual treatment, adding, "We would only wish to support those who might want to do so at their own will."

The director of one of those hospitals claimed separately that they were simply providing "counselling."

The reporter visited all of the locations in Uganda between mid-February and late March, openDemocracy told the American Independent Foundation.

The United Nations released a report last year calling on countries to prohibit the so-called therapy in all of its forms. According to the report, this includes using sexual violence to control LGBTQ people, known as "corrective rape," as well as what is known as aversion therapy, or "teaching" LGBTQ people to conform to certain gender or dating expectations.

"Conversion therapy" has been banned in 20 states in the United States. There is currently no ban on the practice at the federal level.

The Equality Act, a bill prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people in healthcare, education, housing, and more, would define "conversion therapy" as anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law. It has passed the House in February but hasn't yet passed the Senate.

openDemocracy was unable to trace any of the USAID funding to the specific hospitals and clinics practicing conversion therapy, who were cited in its report.

Anthony Kujawa, a spokesperson for a U.S. embassy in Kampala, Uganda, told openDemocracy in May, "USAID does not fund or promote anti-LGBTQI+ conversion therapy and will investigate any report that a USAID funded partner is doing so."

A USAID spokesperson reiterated to the American Independent Foundation in an email on Friday, July 2, that the United States "does not fund or promote anti-LGBTQ+ conversion therapy."

"The United States government, through staff at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda, has engaged leadership of the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau and the Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) Uganda concerning the allegations cited. IDI subgrants to the Most At Risk Populations Initiative (MARPI) clinic in Kampala, with U.S. funding," the spokesperson said.

They continued, noting that "officials from the U.S. Embassy in Uganda" had "emphasized the need to ensure support for key populations, including the LGBTQ+ community."

"The implementing partners agreed to take steps to ensure that appropriate gender and sexual diversity training is provided to all implementing partner staff and health care workers and ensure refresher trainings for the same; hiring practices include principles of nondiscrimination in personnel contracts; a patients bill of rights is posted in facilities; and future service delivery issues raised through PEPFAR’s Community-led Monitoring program are addressed," they added.

During the Trump administration, which is when most of USAID funding cited in the report was parceled out, many senior officials and Cabinet members openly opposed LGBTQ rights.

In 2020, an Axios report revealed USAID staffers were upset by the comments of several anti-LGBTQ Trump appointees who worked at at the agency, including Deputy Chief of Staff Bethany Kozma, Deputy White House Liaison Merritt Corrigan, and Religious Freedom Advisor Mark Lloyd.

According to Axios, Lloyd had said of transgender people, "I’m not going to play the pronoun game. XY=he, him,boy XX=she, her, girl." Corrigan had tweeted at one point about a "tyrannical LGBT agenda."

Mike Pompeo, who served as secretary of state for Trump between 2018 and 2020, also implemented a harsh right-wing evangelical Christian agenda during his time at the department. Experts said that he tried to advance a notion of human rights that treated LGBTQ rights as lesser class of rights.

The Biden administration scrapped that approach in March.

And although the Trump administration spoke at length about its push to decriminalize homosexuality, advocates for these decriminalization efforts told Mother Jones in 2019 that not much came out of it other than a few panel discussions.

The Trump administration also left the position of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons at the State Department — a role created in 2015 during the Obama administration — empty after Randy Berry left the role in 2018 for an ambassadorship.

On June 25, President Joe Biden chose Jessica Stern, the executive director of OutRight Action International, a human rights group focused on LGBTQ rights, to fill the vacant post.

This article was updated to include comments from an official USAID spokesperson.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.