In late 2009, while talking with a group of friends someone brought up the that they had read about a Kill the Gays Bill in Uganda. A pastor named Martin Ssempa was pushing for a law to imprison gays and even sentence those with HIV/AIDS to death for having sex. And that the Canyon Ridge Christian Church (CRCC) was providing financial support to the pastor for this Bill. Instantly chills had ran up my back and a sick feeling in my stomach. I had remembered that the CRCC had a raised funds and sponsored a team to participate in the AIDSwalk for Aids for AIDS of Nevada. I wasn’t out about my HIV status, and I didn’t want to accidentally out myself by saying anything so I didn’t add to the conversation. Later when I got home I looked up the story and found out it was all true.
Looking into it further when I came across comments posted on Facebook by the group the RED Ribbon Army and a few others by concerned community members posting on Aid For AIDS of Nevada fan-page asking for AFAN to condemn the Bill and to stop supporting the CRCC. I don’t remember seeing any responses by AFAN. I kept looking online to see what more information was available.
- AFAN arrogantly dismisses concerns about CRCC
- Aid for AIDS Nevada ignores concerns about linkage to Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill
- Pressure mounts on Aid for AIDS Nevada.
- Here It Is: The Text of Uganda’s Proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill
- Petition Jared Hafen: Ask Aid for AIDS Nevada to Condemn Uganda’s Anti-HomosexualityBill
- A U.S. church and its “kill the gays” partner in Uganda
- Las Vegas Church Which Supports Ugandan “Kill-The-Gays” Pastor Wants To Test You for HIV
So AFAN had ties to the CRCC for almost a year while this bill worked its way through the Ugandan Legislature (which passed into law later in 2012). Sadly the CRCC stated they still supported Martin Ssempa, “continuing our conversations” with the pastor because the they “do not believe Martin Ssempa to be the man the media and others have portrayed him to be.” CRCC Statement – released 6/27/2010
I couldn’t believe just how silent AFAN had been about everything. Since many of the blogs mention AFAN’s Director, Jennifer Morss, I wrote to her explaining simply that I was a client of AFAN and I urged that AFAN please no longer support the CRCC. I also sent a copy of my letter to AFAN’s office location that was addressed to AFAN’s Board since at the time I couldn’t find the Boards contact information on AFAN’s website. For a few days I regretted sending my letters only because I had heard from other clients that Morss played favorites with clients. That she would help get particular clients resources or connect them to services that were limited. I was worried that down the line I would have problems with getting assistance with things I needed. But I just kept telling myself that sending that letter was more important. I didn’t receive a response.
By August of 2010 I started to see more and more horrific reports and news segments of the murders and corrective rapes against of gays and lesbians in Uganda. Finally on August 26th of 2010 Aid for AIDS Nevada issued a Statement that, “After evaluating Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s backing of Pastor Ssempa of Uganda and his support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, we feel that it is in the best interest of our clients, supporters and staff to dissolve our relationship with the church immediately…”
Shockingly Qvegas Magazine, a publication in Las Vegas, did an article on the relationship of AFAN with the CRCC. Kelly Smith, owner (at the time) of Qvegas Magazine was a friend and supporter of Morss. The publication featured an article on AFAN almost every month. Qvegas later remove or archive the article. However the Edge.com still has a copy of Qvegas’s article entitled, “AFAN Severs Ties with Local Church“.
In the article Morss was said to be both “shocked and perplexed as to why Canyon Ridge was supporting Ssempa.”
“We suspected AFAN was truly being used as a shield for what they were supporting in Uganda. It was like ’look at this great work that we’re doing with AFAN and pay attention to this pretty, sparkly thing but don’t look at what we’re actually doing in Uganda.'”
But yet despite the outrage the CRCC continues to provide financial assistance for Pastor Martin Ssempa’s work as the Turtle Box Bulletin points out in their article “Las Vegas Church May Drop Support for Ugandan Anti-Gay Pastor“ . And even with Morss’s statement AFAN continues to accept money from the CRCC’s. (Something to take note of, the CRCC sponsored a team for AFAN’s AIDSwalk event in 2011, 2012, and again in 2013 while still praising and funding Ssempa’s work in Uganda.)
After AFAN’s announcement made in August I kept looking for anything involving AFAN, the CRCC, and the Uganda Bill on a weekly basis when this blog post caught my attention.
“We must give thanks to AFAN for its swift response to our city’s shared outrage at Canyon Ridge’s continued support of a man we consider a human rights terrorist,” – Derek L. Washington, chair of the Stonewall Democrats of Southern Nevada (SDCSN), sarcastically stated in the SDCSN blog in November, 2010.
The sdcsn.blogspot.com has since been taken down. But a copy of that statement by was saved here at ourownvoices.com. I took note of the blog post by Derek Washington since I remember meeting Derek in 2009 at a Anti-bully conference at UNLV called COME OUT. I even added him as a friend on Facebook at the time. There were many more comments that Derek had made about his view on Morss’s behavior on a few different blogs, but those comments were also later removed after Derek was offered to work at AFAN by Morss. (More about that soon)
I was was more concerned, freaked out actually about running into these church leaders and church members of the CRCC at AFAN. What if I bump into them when I came in for an appointment? Would the know I was a client? Would Morss share my letter with the CRCC? How/why would Morss accepted blood money from people like this? Why didn’t AFAN’s board intervene? What was being done to stop the bill from becoming law? What could I do about any of it?
It all seemed futile. And now the thought of going back again to AFAN had become almost tormenting. Terrified about something happening, anything happening during one of my next appointments there. Not being able to afford my life saving medications on my own I had no other choice but to keep going an organization that accepting money from a church that helped make it legal to put gays with HIV/AIDS in another country to death. People that were just like me.