As ThinkProgress has noted, the Ugandan parliament is considering a draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would severely punish gay men and women by making some homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has done tremendous work on global health issues through his foundation — including donating hundreds of millions of dollars to fight HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. But in a recent interview with the Seattle Times, Gates passed on an opportunity to denounce the potential law, suggesting that it’s not very important:
Q: Looking at health efforts in Africa, such as HIV prevention and treatment, are you concerned about the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill, and have you spoken to anyone there about it?
A: The spread of AIDS is a huge problem and obviously we’re very involved. I talk in my letter about the great success with this male circumcision effort, and preventative drug trials. There’s a tendency to think in the U.S. just because a law says something that it’s a big deal. In Africa if you want to talk about how to save lives, it’s not just laws that count. There’s a stigma no matter what that law says, for sex workers, men having sex with men, that’s always been a problem for AIDS. It relates to groups that aren’t that visible. AIDS itself is subject to incredible stigma. Open involvement is a helpful thing. I wouldn’t overly focus on that. In terms of how many people are dying in Africa, it’s not about the law on the books; it’s about getting the message out and the new tools.
The bill has been strongly condemned internationally and should be especially troubling to Gates because it “in effect bans organizations working in HIV and AIDS prevention,” which it considers “promotion of homosexuality.” The U.N.’s Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa blasted to legislation, saying, “The law will drive [patients] away from seeking counseling and testing services.” AIDS activists in Uganda and the U.S. have protested the bill, and the U.N. has threatened to scuttle plans to build an AIDS research center in Uganda if the bill becomes law.
In April of last year, the Ugandan government announced a partnership with Microsoft on a “very big project” to aid Uganda’s schools.