The victims of the Ebola epidemic gripping parts of West Africa aren't just the ones who contracted the virus. The infrastructure of whole nations is at a breaking point; hospitals and doctors are being pushed to their limits. Many Africans traveling to the United States, or at least intending to, have faced shameful racism from institutions and organizations that ought to know better. The virus has spread as a disease and a panic.
And, among other tragic effects, it has inflamed hatred toward gays.
That's right. According to a Reuters report, homosexuals in Liberia are facing threats and harassment after church groups linked the spread of the disease to their supposed sins.
"Since church ministers declared Ebola was a plague sent by God to punish sodomy in Liberia, the violence toward gays has escalated. They're even asking for the death penalty. We're living in fear," LGBT activist Leroy Ponpon told Reuters over the phone from Monrovia. The article elaborates:
Ponpon, an LGBT campaigner in the Liberian capital, says gays have been harassed, physically attacked and a few have had their cars smashed by people blaming them for the hemorrhagic fever, after religious leaders in Liberia said Ebola was a punishment from God for homosexuality.
The Liberian Council of Churches, as my colleague Terrence McCoy noted in August, released a statement saying "God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague." It went on:
Liberians have to pray and seek God's forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God's forgiveness.
"Voluntary sodomy" is a crime in Liberia and can lead to a year in jail. It is consistent with harsh anti-gay laws that exist in many African countries. According to Reuters, Ponpon is afraid to move around during the day -- local Liberian newspapers have printed his picture and phone number on their front pages. But a curfew imposed by authorities as a measure to deal with the epidemic means he can't go out at night either.
"All we want is protection," Ponpon told Reuters. "We want the government to come forward and say that this is a minority group and they deserve the same rights as anyone else and then people will stop attacking us."
Christian missionary and evangelical groups play a conspicuous role in parts of Africa, providing aid but also fanning bigotry and hate. In Uganda, American evangelicals have influenced the draconian anti-gay legislation being deliberated there.
And so it shouldn't be too surprising that some Christians across the Atlantic have imposed a similar narrative on the outbreak. In early August, Oklahoma conservative Christian radio host Rick Miles appeared to echo the anti-gay Liberian clergymen, pinning the advent of the epidemic on a grab-bag of things loathed by American cultural conservatives.
"This Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic, and that’s another name for plague," he said. "It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming. Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion."
In West Africa and the United States, it seems, such bigotry is one threat of the Ebola outbreak that is very real.