Last Ditch Effort by Obama to Launch $100M Fund for Overseas LGBT Advocacy

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D. | December 20, 2016

The State Department is attempting to fast-track a $100 million Key Populations Investment Fund before the end of the current administration’s term. The fund would disburse funds over the next five years to combat HIV/AIDS among “key populations” in developing countries.

According to the funding notice, “key populations” are defined as “men who have sex with men, transgender persons, sex workers, people who inject drugs, and people in prisons and other closed settings.”

This new initiative raises several important concerns.

Transparency and oversight

Most recipients of this massive new fund will not be publicly known either because the funds will be cleared through intermediary groups, or because the State department classifies as “sensitive” those grants that would benefit individuals who identify as LGBT.

The Global Equality Fund, another State Department initiative to fund overseas LGBT groups, has drawn criticism, including from LGBT activists in the U.S., for its lack of transparency. This Key Populations Investment Fund is likely to cause more of the same issues.

Respect for Sovereignty

The fund calls on applicants to include the offer of support for “advocacy officers” within program budgets. This is highly controversial given that the grantees will be working with “key populations,” whose membership involves behaviors that are illegal in many countries. In other words, it sounds as though the State Department is advertising a call for social agitators to change the laws of countries where the funds are destined.

Host countries are not unaware of attempts to change their laws and cultural norms using the cover of providing aid.  A 2016 report from the Foundation for AIDS Research acknowledged that PEPFAR, or the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, “faced considerable resistance from many host countries to undertaking data collection efforts or implementing programs targeting [key populations].”

Feared Backlash

The New York Times and Foreign Affairs, among others, have questioned whether the Obama administration’s insistent promotion of LGBT rights internationally is fueling a backlash against the very people it aims to help.

The aggressive promotion of LGBT rights by the U.S. State Department has solidified and increased feelings of hostility against individuals who identify as LGBT, or lead culturally non-conforming lifestyles. New laws outlawing homosexual conduct have been adopted in many countries, and individuals who identify as LGBT themselves say they feel more in danger now than ever before.

Conscience protection

In addition to the concerns of host governments regarding this fund’s aims within their countries, the grant making process may raise further issues for potential applicants, particularly those whose outreach to marginalized persons stems from a religious motivation.

The report from the Foundation for AIDS Research included a list of “U.S. government policy barriers to PEPFAR [key population] programming,” including stipulations that grantees explicitly oppose prostitution or sex trafficking, or the fact that “[o]rganizations are permitted to limit the services they deliver based on their religious or moral philosophy (i.e., the ‘conscience clause’).” It is likely that regulations will be put in place to prevent any recognition of the rights of conscience by applicant organizations.


Membership in “key populations” typically involves repeated risky, often illegal, behavior.  To the extent that such behavior is voluntary, the best outcome for individuals and the wider population alike would be achieved by assisting people in key populations to leave such behavior entirely.  But by focusing efforts on removing the stigma from the behaviors that put members of those populations at high risk of HIV/AIDS, the Key Populations Investment Fund would be unlikely to accept any applicants whose approach emphasizes risk avoidance over risk reduction.

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