Responding to a Florida Independent story revealing ties between Project SOS, a federally funded Jacksonville abstinence education program, and Martin Ssempa, a controversial Ugandan pastor who supports a law in that country that prescribes the death penalty for homosexuality, program founder Pam Mullarkey says she wants to “dissociate and distance” herself from “allegations” about Ssempa made by “the US media.”
Mullarkey contacted the Independent via email with this statement:
While I don’t believe the allegations made about Pr. Ssempa, and he has categorically denied them, I wish to dissociate and distance myself from the allegations of genocide, violence against gays which are attributed to Dr. Martin Ssempa in the US media. I have partnered with him in HIV/AIDS prevention in the past but am no longer working with him or planning to work with him in the foreseeable future.
Mullarkey also denies making the statement to the Independent that homosexuals have “ruined people’s lives” in Uganda, saying it is in fact AIDS that has “done that.”
When contacted by the Independent for the original article, Mullarkey would not immediately denounce Ssempa’s action surrounding his country’s “Anti Homosexuality Bill.” Later, via email, Mullarkey told the Independent she had contacted Ssempa and was “waiting for his response” before she would “make a statement.”
Mullarkey now writes that Ssempa finally replied to her email. This passage comes from Ssempa’s email to Mullarkey:
This bill has a draft which seeks strong punishment of death penalty for violent rape of children, infection of HIV, or the rape of the handicapped. A similar law exists in place for heterosexuals already so this was simply to even out the protection of rape and infection both from hetero or homosexual offenders. We have asked that the bill be adjusted and the punishments be reduced to be more meaningful.
“I do not support the death penalty for being gay and I do not believe Mr. Ssempa does either,” Mullarkey writes. “His statement was very conditional upon rape of children. … From his quote to me the bill has been misinterpreted or changed.”
The bill — the full text of which can be read here (.pdf) — has in fact not been changed. Calls for a reduction in the punishment of death for “aggravated homosexuality” date back to 2009, and yet no action has been taken to modify the law.
Ssempa is also still facing blackmail charges filed against him in December 2010 for allegedly hiring a man to claim he was sodomized by fellow Ugandan Pastor Robert Kayanja. According to media accounts, Ssempa and two other pastors sought to tarnish Kayanja’s reputation because they suspected him of being involved in “homosexual practices.”
Last week, the Guardian and WikiLeaks released cables from the U.S. embassy in Uganda regarding Ssempa and the author of the “Anti Homosexuality Bill,” David Bahati.
The cables come from 2009, when the bill was first introduced, and are titled “Homophobe Extremists and Homosexual Scapegoats.” Among other observations about Ssempa, the report calls attention to “Ssempa’s ability to channel popular anger over Uganda’s socio-political failings into violent hatred of a previously unpopular but tolerated minority,” describing it as “chilling.”
Project SOS has received more than $6.5 million in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since 2002. In September 2010, the organization obtained $454,000 through the Federal Healthy Marriage program. Awarded in 2006, this is the final year for the Project SOS grant.