Despair at the World AIDS Conference – July 2012

I walked into the Global Village, which was in the exhibition hall at the World Aids Conference. It was open to the public.  Twenty two thousand people had come to Washington DC from all over the world to talk about HIV/AIDS.  There were hundreds of booths, staffed by people from everywhere.  There were lectures, discussions, music, dancing and crafts.  The excitement was palpable.

The first booth that I passed held a display of jewelry, being sold by a Christian group from Uganda.  I stopped to look at the beautiful craftsmanship.  A Ugandan man approached me.  He looked at the “PFLAG Mom” button that I wear.  “What does that mean?” he asked.  I said, “Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.”  He looked carefully at the letters, repeating what I had said and telling me that there was an F missing.  Then he held my arm and took me aside, looking back cautiously at the two women in the booth.  I could feel his hand around my arm – the urgency, the intensity; his eyes filling with tears as he spoke to me in a quiet voice.  “Please come, please come to Uganda.  In Uganda they try to kill all gay people.  We have no mothers who care in Uganda.  Please, please come to Uganda.”

I was made speechless by his despair.  He then became quiet, just holding my arm.  Regaining some composure, I told him that I do go to Africa sometimes but also that I would be back to see him tomorrow, thinking that I would give him a book. The next day when I approached with the book, he spotted me immediately and again took me aside.  I gave him the book and I told him anything is possible.

However, I know that anything is not possible and that was a lie.  Uganda is a very dangerous place.  They keep trying to pass laws that not only kill homosexuals but jail their friends as accomplices.  I do not know what his organization is.  I think they are a Christian organization that serves social outcasts, a group that includes gay people.

I don’t know whether this man was coming out to me and not to the women in the booth.  But what I do know is the look of desperation and despair – and it was heart-wrenching to behold.

I thought perhaps he might e-mail me, but I have heard nothing. My guess is that he is too afraid to write. I have found this to be true when I have attempted contact with LGBT people from countries where the danger is grave.  My hope is that my book felt like a hug from a mother who is fortunate to live in a country where love, pride, and taking action are all possible.