Actions speak louder than words

According to Politico, citing "four individuals with knowledge of the planned remarks,” President Trump intends to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in his State of the Union speech this evening.  The president intends to promote a plan put forward by Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar and the US Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield.  Politico reports, "An HHS spokesperson referred questions to the White House. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.”

In the 1980's and 1990's, artist Keith Haring’s widely recognized figures championed the cause of AIDS education, and served as a call to action for many of us in the key affected populations; he died of AIDS on February 16, 1990, but not before establishing The Keith Haring Foundation — in accordance with his wishes, the foundation concentrates its giving in support of organizations which provide educational opportunities to underprivileged children, and in support of organizations which engage in education, prevention, and care with respect to HIV infection and AIDS.  His most “famous” work, completed a year before he died…

Keith-Haring-Ignorance-Fear

was not just art; it was a visual challenge to each of us to fight HIV and AIDS for our survival, to take on prevention of HIV and AIDS as a mission, to promote compassion for those affected by HIV and AIDS, and, most importantly, to see ignorance and fear of HIV and AIDS — represented by the three characters see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil — as an express train to death.

So why am I upset that the president intends to unveil a plan tonight to stop new HIV infections by 2030?  Because, thoughtful reader, his words may say one thing, but the facts and his actions say something else entirely.

In May of 2017, the White House announced its intention to cut $1.1 billion dollars from established HIV programs such as PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), the Ryan White Program (which I wrote about extensively here), and the Global Fund; all of these are critical to the fight against HIV and AIDS both in the United States and around the world — cutting them would not only immediately hurt those living with and fighting the disease, but also increase the number of new infections.

Then, a month later — in June of 2017 — six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) resigned, saying Mr. Trump simply didn’t care about fighting the disease; in a scathing letter to Newsweek, Scott Schoettes, HIV Project director at Lambda Legal and council member wrote:

As advocates for people living with HIV, we have dedicated our lives to combating this disease and no longer feel we can do so effectively within the confines of an advisory body to a president who simply does not care.

Just five months later, in December of 2017, only 28 days after World AIDS Day, President Trump quietly dissolved PACHA by firing the remaining 16 members of the council — created in 1995 under the administration of President Bill Clinton to help the president of the United States address the AIDS epidemic with the help of researchers, health professionals, faith leaders, HIV/AIDS advocates, and people living with the disease.  He gave no explanation or justification as to why.

You will note, thoughtful reader, that nowhere in this post, except for in this sentence, have I used the word ‘gay.’  That was intentional, because HIV/AIDS is not limited to men who are sexually attracted to other men; it can affect babies in the womb; it can affect poor men and women and children in under-developed countries and their more affluent counterparts in developed countries; it can affect you!  It affects Christians and non-Christians, citizens and immigrants, football fans and figure skating aficionados.  If we want to talk about a true national emergency that affects our national security, instead of some imagined threat posed by migrants and refugees fleeing hardship and danger with nothing but the shirt on their back storming our southern border, let’s discuss the policy of employment discrimination the Trump Administration supported by discharging two service members in the US Air Force solely because they disclosed their HIV-positive status to the Department of Defense in December of 2018. 

President Trump and his administration should hang their heads in shame, not deliver an applause line as meaningful as saying “cake tastes good.”  Donald Trump understands as much about HIV/AIDS as my dog does about the country of Latvia; Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, said in an interview that Trump did not know the difference between HPV (human papillomavirus — the most common sexually transmitted infection) and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)!  With reports this week from Axios that since the 2018 midterm elections, Trump has spent nearly 60% of his scheduled time in unstructured ‘executive time’ (a description created by his former chief-of-staff John Kelly so staffers didn’t have to write “dicking around on Twitter while eating KFC and watching DVR’d episodes of Fox & Friends” in official White House records), one has to question his commitment to being a leader on, well, anything.

If he truly wants to bring an end to further transmission and spread of the virus and advocate for people living with it, here are some practical, concrete steps which can be taken as soon as his speech tonight is over:

  1. stop the criminalization of those living with HIV (29 states in the US — 58%, so well over half — have HIV-specific criminalization laws) 
  2. increase HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS) funding for people living with HIV
  3. support employment and housing non-discrimination protections for people living with HIV
  4. expand healthcare for all, including Medicare and Medicaid, recognizing that 40% of Americans with HIV depend on Medicaid to pay their medical bills
  5. develop a national and then global plan to rollout affordable access to PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, also known as Post-Exposure Prevention)
  6. launch a nationwide rollout of U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable) education and funding
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