Project SOS is a Jackonsville-based organization that has taught abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula to over 350,000 Florida students (according to its website) since its founding. In large part, it’s been able to do this because of federal funding: since 2002, the group has received more than $6.5 million from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, including a recent $454,000 grant received late last year.
Dr. Pam Mullarkey, Project SOS’s founder, is a particularly vocal opponent of reproductive freedom and comprehensive sex education. In a year when House Republicans are unashamedly propagating lies about Planned Parenthood (in order to defund the organization), it’s important to remember that there are people just like them in the field, sharing the same lies with countless families and young people. Here is what Mullarkey wrote about Planned Parenthood in 2009:
Just take a look at Planned Parenthood’s Web site for teens, called teenwire.com, and you will see their philosophy and understand their motives.
It is all about money.
Teens having sex is a big business.
Teens go to them to pay for contraception, STD testing, and when the contraception fails, they pay big bucks for abortions…
Earlier this week, The Florida Independent reported on Mullarkey’s connection with Martin Ssempa, a Ugandan minister known for his extreme anti-gay views and his strident support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill — a measure that would make "aggravated homosexuality" a crime punishable by death.
Ssempa includes this glowing endorsement from the Project SOS founder on his personal website:
"Martin Ssempa is the man to watch. He’s the most powerful voice for abstinence in the world and his passion, charisma and character make his vital message irresistible."
After reading this statement, The Florida Independent’s Andy Kopsa contacted Mullarkey, emailing her links to video recordings and news articles in which he calls gay people "pedophiles," among other insults.
The most amazing thing? Mullarkey responded to this not with outrage or even guarded concern — instead, she submitted what amounts to an unequivocal defense and additional endorsement of Ssempa and his views. She told The Independent that "I know Martin well enough to know that because of his Christian faith he would never support the death penalty" (which is either a disingenuous or completely obtuse statement, given that Ssempa clearly says that he supports the death penalty for certain LGBT Ugandans right on his website). She also celebrated Ssempa for his efforts using abstinence-only programming as a HIV/AIDS prevention mechanism, mentioning that "he had [Ugandan university students] burning condoms as a commitment to abstinence."
Finally, in response to The Independent’s reminder that Ssempa has lost many of his family members to HIV/AIDS, Mullarkey gives us the hateful claim that gay Africans are responsible for "destroy[ing] people’s lives."
And these are the leaders that our federal government supports and funds? Whether Mullarkey intended her statements to represent the official position of Project SOS or instead her own private reflections doesn’t really matter. Either way, they reveal the core beliefs, operational ideology, and true politics of someone who guides one of Florida’s major abstinence-only-until-marriage institutions.
It makes you wonder: Why, again, are U.S. tax dollars being funneled to these failed, ideologically driven abstinence-only programs?
If the federal government and Congress really believe in supporting effective youth sexual health initiatives that include information about contraception and condom use, why is it supporting an organization that is led by someone who celebrates burning condoms?
If the federal government and Congress really believe in reaching all young people — including LGBT youth — with vital sexual health information, why do they continue to support organizations like Project SOS, whose lesson plans include nothing for LGBT students, and whose founder blames gay people for "destroy[ing] lives" through HIV/AIDS transmission? (Personally, as someone who knows a few LGBT African human rights defenders who have risked their lives in order to stop anti-gay stigma and save the lives of their neighbors and friends, such a statement is the height of offensiveness.)
Ultimately, these are questions that can’t be answered with words and half-measures — they can only be answered via a clear policy corrective from our public officials. The case of Project SOS, its founder, and the apparently hundreds of thousands of students that have been exposed to its dangerous, myth-laden curricula is proof enough that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs should be completely abolished once and for all.