Las Vegas AIDS support group silent on partnership with Canyon Ridge

In June, Canyon Ridge Christian Church ended the silence regarding their mission partner, Martin Ssempa, saying that the church leaders met with the chief pastoral supporter of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill in March.  Church leaders said they regarded some of Ssempa’s methods to be “offensive” but continued to support him. Pastor Kevin Odor said the church hoped to maintain a relationship which would allow CRCC to influence their Ugandan mission partner.

However, Pastor Odor misrepresented the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by saying the bill was designed to close gaps in Ugandan law by providing penalties for child molesters and those who intentional spread HIV.  In fact, the bill provides life in prison for those convicted of homosexual intimacy and death for “repeat offenders” or those who engage in consensual relationships while HIV positive. The bill also provides criminal penalties for those who know someone who is gay but do not report this to police.

In the sermon where Pastor Odor described the church’s response to Pastor Ssempa, he reminded the congregation that they walked in the local AIDS Walk as an illustration of the church’s commitment to helping those suffering with AIDS. That local AIDS group is Aid for AIDS Nevada (AFAN).

On April 25, AFAN hosted the AIDS Walk with numerous community groups and individuals participating. Canyon Ridge organized a team which is listed on the AFAN website and is open to public members. According to a walker who declined to be named, a group of church folks wore t-shirts displaying the church name and marched in the April event. The church team raised $1385 for AFAN.

I contacted AFAN before I found this information on their website. When I did, one staffer I spoke with declined to comment but forwarded my request to the director, Jennifer Morss. I then wrote Ms. Morss two additional emails asking for comment on the relationship with Canyon Ridge and the recent action of Southern Nevada Health to sever ties with the church.

To date, I have gotten no answer. Last week, I went on the Facebook group for AFAN and left a comment on their wall asking for a PR person from AFAN to contact me. Initially, that comment was answered with a recommendation that I contact Terri Maruca, Vice President at Kirvin Doak Communications. When I contacted Ms. Maruca, she replied that someone from the staff would contact me next (now this) week. In the mean time, Michael Bussee also left a request for public comment on the AFAN Facebook group wall. Sometime in mid-week last week, both of those comments were removed by the owner of the AFAN group. Currently, Mr. Bussee has another request for public comment on the AFAN wall.

This silence is puzzling. The partnership is minimal but real. All such partnerships provide benefit to both groups. AFAN gets donations and connections to diverse constituents and CRCC gets a reputation for community involvement and concern for those with HIV. Furthermore, I do not mean to diminish this, those who walk and donate are probably motivated by a sincere desire to help.

However, the dissonance is jarring. CRCC seems to be involved in commendable activities but in this case has partnered with Martin Ssempa to mislead many people about the real nature of the Ugandan bill. Just over the weekend, the Ugandan Daily Monitor made it crystal clear what Anti-Homosexuality Bill author, David Bahati, believes about how the state should react to homosexuals:

Bahati accuses the rich for trying to influence the world with their homosexuality agenda, which he calls a great threat to society and the future generation.

“This habit is learned and can be unlearned,” he adds, quoting the Bible: “Homosexuality is an abomination punishable by death.” When I asked him how, as a Christian, he can advocate for a death penalty, he replied, “It is in Leviticus. Go and read – the penalty for homosexuality is death.”

I suspect it would be quite offensive to many walking in the AIDS walk to know that a church that provides cover for the AHB campaign is a recognized partner of the group hosting the event. Such an event could not happen in Uganda if the bill passes.

From the beginning of this story, I have been interested in how Americans respond to the AHB. Thus far, I cannot discern the stance of AFAN since they have been silent. While I don’t believe AFAN supports the AHB or even CRCC in any direct manner, the silence and removal of comments is surprising.

UPDATE: Mr. Bussee’s most recent comment was deleted.

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  • Michael Bussee

    I have also receieved no return calls or responses to my email queries.

  • Michael Bussee

    Box Turtle Bulletin is reporting on this situation.

    Aid for AIDS Nevada ignores concerns about linkage to Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” Bill

    “So please understand that when your AIDSwalk includes CRCC, it is not their faith that is shocking. It is not that they are conservative.

    Rather, it is that you have a participant in your event who stands virtually alone in refusing to condemn the incarceration and execution of people for being gay.

    This is such an extreme position that the Southern Nevada Health District found it necessary to cease any outreach at the church. They found it not only offensive, but that their support for Ssempa served to endanger gay Ugandans and to harm and hinder the efforts to fight HIV in that country.

    I understand that others have brought this situation to your attention, but have not been successful in determining your stance. As I am a writer for a website that has been successful in getting the information about the bill out to the public and which has a large readership and close connections to gay media, they’ve requested that we inquire about your intentions.

    So please let me know whether you will continue to allow CRCC to participate in your organization and to display their organization’s name. “– Timothy Kinkaid

  • Angelica G

    I am wondering if anyone is aware of the current embezzelment case going on with afan just breaking this week? There is over a half million dollars missing and the executive director, Jennifer morss, has refused to contact authorities so she has more time to shred documents and cover her own footsteps. The assistant director, Jared Hafen, has confessed to her his involvement, yet she signs the checks so she is delaying justice. Giving herself more time to continue stealing federal money that is to be used for clients…. Has anyone heard this???

  • Michael

    I was hoping Angelica reads this or anybody who has information about the embezzlement and Director Jennifer Morss. Why do you think it was $500,000? Is Metro still investigating? Any charges brought against Jared Hafen?

    I think they will try to cover-up as much as possible. Board of trustee President Patricia Saavedra was adamant that Jennifer has done nothing wrong but during her three year reign AFAN operating cost have gone up while client services have all but disappeared.. There also has been several internal scandals during her watch.

    They now proudly declare that the neediest of clients still get services. I know AFAN raised $2.6 million two years age, that was the last time I checked, yet out of 2,500 clients only the neediest are provided with minimum services?

    Several staff members are paid through government grants. The State pays them to administer Ryan White and ADAP certification. Jennifer is paid a relatively LARGE salary, actually I was quite shocked at how much she takes of money earmarked for clients.

    Jim St. Maire, a former Ryan White Planning Council member tried to look at their financial’s and was denied. He said that “their finances are very cloistered.” “No one is allowed to see what they do with the money or to get any financial accountability from them”.

    Jennifer has turned AFAN into her own “Golden Goose”. There isn’t anyone with HIV or AIDS working there anymore because she fired Lane Olsen. To Jennifer it all about taking as much as she can, providing jobs for her friends and spending frivolously on infrastructure. She moved into that new and expensive office.They have all of the latest equipment like new computers for everyone.

    The only services she is providing to clients is outreaches for the home-bound and once in awhile bus tokens and food vouchers to the extremely poor. Clients who receive around $1000 or more S.S.D. check shave been eliminated from receiving anything. They won’t help you pay your electric bill but Jared collects a decent paycheck and steals money to pay his electric bill.

    Awhile back I heard a rumor that Jennifer was building a home using AFAN money. I didn’t think much of it but now I’m wondering. It seems $2.6 million should go a lot farther among clients then it did. Then with Patricia staunchly supporting Jennifer I’m wondering if some of the trustees are taking a piece.

    I’m going to try and get the financial myself and look them over. Where is all that money going?