National Native HIV Awareness Day is March 20

By Shana Christensen

There is a saying in Lakota that I really love: “Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ.” It means “All my Relations.” I’m not Lakota. We don’t have that saying in Kiowa, which is the tribe I hail from. Nevertheless, It’s always struck a chord with me. When I think about all the other Natives who are living with HIV, they feel like my family, even if I haven’t met them yet. Native Americans represent some two percent of the US population, yet in many areas of the country, our HIV rates as a race are super high, above whites and in some places, second highest. Scary is an understatement.

Photo by Jeremy Charles

Our people have a milieu of reasons as to why we are at risk. Some tribes do an excellent job addressing prevention education. Other tribes have incredible access to care and treatment. I’ve been lucky to have visited lots of reservations over the years to look at their efforts first hand. I’m an urban Native, so I have quality access to care and excellent insurance through my husband and I’ve always been proactive in seeking out the best doctors and care. (If I did not have my husbands’ insurance, I live in an area that luckily works very hard to ensure my access to care with other funds, like the Ryan White Program, a life saver for many.) On the other end of the spectrum, there are tribes that have little to no HIV prevention, no money for HIV care, and no resources to help those in their communities who are HIV-positive. Numbers always affect funding, so smaller tribes are sometimes left by the wayside.

More of my life has been spent living with HIV as opposed to without it. As an adult, it is nearly all I know. I can’t imagine what an HIV free life would look like. Yet alas, this is my path and my journey, so I have buckled down to embrace it and make the best of it. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been incredibly humbling. There are no days off with this illness, much like the relief people feel when a Flu finally goes away. It requires daily attention and diligence. In the early years I was angry and felt betrayed by the whole world, sure that I had been accidentally wronged somehow and undeserved of this punishment. I had also been taught all the common ignorant stigmas about this disease, like many, about what this disease was and who “should” be most at risk for contracting it and thus never saw how I fit the pattern. So I learned the hard way, as they say. Again, humbling to my core. That was a sure fire way to deterioration and loss of energy and life. In those early years, I could feel it, literally.

Then things changed. I can without a doubt say that my traditional ceremonies are what have kept me alive and well. I’ll also agree that both Native American medicine and western medicines are an excellent mix, and are both what have contributed to keeping me alive and well. I have been privileged to have been able to participate in certain traditional ceremonies. Not all of us have access to our tribal ways. Especially for those of us who are Urban Indians, it is often difficult or very complicated to get home. For me, they were utterly life changing. They were the beauty I needed. They were the lessons in acceptance, patience, and gratitude I also needed. Yes, gratitude. It’s funny to think of being grateful to a disease that has the potential to kill you. Yet what I learned was a perspective so unusual and far removed from the traditional western outlook on a disease. It was the opposite in many ways. Most people would hate their disease, or resent it at the minimum. Diseases are annoying and time consuming and expensive and a literal pain, right? I was taught the antithesis. I learned to listen to my virus. I learned to communicate with it, to it. I learned to respect it as a life form. I also said things like I will need it to leave my body one day. But I learned how to not hate it, not resent it and not hate having it stream through my body. I also had to learn to listen to my body. And I learned that my body listens and responds to what I am saying, thinking and feeling about it. If you say you hate your body, your body hears it. If you say your body deserves to be well and healthy, it hears that too. We are not disconnected from our bodies.

In my tribe, they said that diseases come as a speaker on behalf of our Earth mother. This time, they said, she was poignantly saying that she was rapidly losing her immune system. She said her defenses have been harmed and her ability to heal has been impeded. The Elders said we humans have done this to her. They said we humans need to feel what she has felt in order to understand. And so the disease was gifted to the human race. It’s a far from average viewpoint. But it evoked in me a compassion and connection to this earth mother from where we all come from and must live. We cannot escape the need for oxygen from her air, or the need for food that grows from her soils or water that comes from her reservoirs. We need our homely earth planet and she does not need us. And so in the ceremonies I was taught to be humble, understand my connectedness to the mother earth and this living thing inside me.

The shift to healing is a deeply emotional and conscious one. It also takes daily work to remember that. Healing is different from a cure. It requires love. It requires a release of resentments and expectations. We humans have come far in this technological age and we have advances and achievements still to come. Yet we must not skip the fact that our waste cannot be greater than our consumption and ability to give back. We must return back to center, find a balance and give back in a positive way. All of these factors helped me. All of these helped me embrace my little retrovirus and carry it as a life form in my body. “Sleep and stop making copies,” the western medications say. “Do not invade the t-cells I need.” It remains burrowed in my RNA, now not replicating and not doing much of anything. Yet I am always aware it is there and listening. I swallow $3,500 worth of western antiviral meds each month. And I mediate daily on keeping the peace with it. Back to the Lakota expression, “Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ,” all my relations indeed, even the small viral ones.

So while I cannot speak for all natives across the country living with HIV, I can clearly state that our traditional ceremonial ways have an empowering piece to play if we allow it. Now, some native friends of mine have experienced the complete opposite of me, shunned from their communities, viewed as a sinned Leper of sorts, unworthy and outcast. It pains me deeply. I see them as my brothers and sisters, bound by our disease, our struggles, and our triumphs. And without trying to sound hippie dippy cliché, we are all truly related anyway. There is after all only one human race. It is my hope and outward encouragement to all of you that we can and will work towards and HIV FREE future. It is my hope that we, the collective, will all work towards a healthier life, a healthier planet, a healthier system for us all to live together and amongst. Because wouldn’t that be wonderful? And in the meantime, all the smaller bits and pieces; such as how you treat someone living with HIV, how you look upon the disabled or the weak, the poor, the disenfranchised, the elderly and the mentally compromised, plays into the compassion and love that’s required in healing. The cure is being worked on. But healing is what is attainable right now. I hope you, and all those you know, can play your part. I am.

Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ

(Special thanks to my Lakota brothers and sisters for having the bestest expression in the world!)

Shana Christensen is an enrolled member of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma. She has been an outspoken HIV activist and prevention educator since 1994. Shana has won numerous awards and recognition for her selfless commitment to educate at-risk communities and stop the spread of HIV, especially and including, Native American communities, people of color and women. She is a board member of A Grateful Day, a nonprofit dedicated to the de stigmatization and socialization of the Oklahoma HIV community. Shana is married and lives with her two children and adopted grandchild in a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Important Happenings in HIV/Health Policy

Important Happenings in

HIV/Health Policy

Week Ending: March 9, 2018
By: Matthew Rose & Sable K. Nelson

 

CROI 2018 Updates
The 25th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections 2018 (CROI 2018) was held from March 4 to 7, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts. Several noteworthy announcements were made:

A new CDC analysis suggests HIV prevention pill is not reaching most Americans who could benefit – especially people of color.
READ →https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2018/croi-2018.html

Utilization of HIV Testing and Prevention Services Among Persons Who Inject Drugs – Indiana, 2016
READ →http://www.croiconference.org/sites/default/files/posters-2018/1430_Tanner_962.pdf

The vaginal ring: more HOPE to the DREAM? Higher adherence and better effectiveness seen in open-label ring studies
READ →http://www.aidsmap.com/The-vaginal-ring-more-HOPE-to-the-DREAM-Higher-adherence-and-better-effectiveness-seen-in-open-label-ring-studies/page/3244527/

For more on these and other highlights from CROI 2018,
READ → http://www.aidsmap.com/croi-2018

 

Black AIDS Institute Launched its Black Women and PrEP Campaign
On March 7th, the Black AIDS Institute launched a PrEP and Black Women’s compendium containing: fact sheets, brochures, posters, presentations, etc. that were created for and by Black women. For more information,
VISIT→
https://blackaids.org/news-and-events/black-women-prep/

 

Greater Than AIDS Releases New #AsktheHIVDoc

Ahead of National Women and Girl HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the Greater Than AIDS campaign released a series of short videos featuring Dr. Charlene Flash, an HIV specialist and primary care doctor based in Houston, TX. Focusing on women, Dr. Flash provides the latest about HIV risk, prevention, testing, and treatment. For more information,
WATCH → https://www.greaterthan.org/askthehivdoc-women-hiv/?utm_campaign=KFF-2018-Mar-HCMP-AsktheHIVDoc&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=61143014&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-97ETfCqO-oaMfe01YNdENy7LVhS1q3VbPI75JbYSMUc8fyfokVE1Di2nbGDsPIAw1UX9eLUPNlQNyOQh2C-K6PW4_iLw&_hsmi=61143014

 

What NMAC is Doing About It

  • NMAC remains vigilant in its advocacy to protect FY18 & FY19 government funding.
  • NMAC was in several meetings on the Hill talking to offices about the importance of funding HIV
  • NMAC work to get congressional offices to support the funding letters around the Minority AIDS Initiative

 

What You Can Do

TAKE ACTION: The President’s budget has cut or eliminated many important HIV/AIDS programs, it’s going to be a fight and our movement cannot afford to stand on the sidelines.  If we don’t support and advocate for HIV funding and programs, who will?  Funding decisions for FY18 will occur in the next few weeks, so your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives need to hear from you.

 

Also, MAKE SURE THAT YOU ARE REGISTERED TO VOTE in time for the primary and general elections happening this year. For more information,
  VISIT→ https://www.eac.gov/voters/register-and-vote-in-your-state/

  • There are no voter registration deadlines in March.

 

Finally, PARTICIPATE IN THE PRIMARY ELECTION(S) in the month of March:

Continuing to Celebrate Women’s History Month

National Women & Girls HIV Awareness Day is March 10

By Sable Nelson, NMAC Policy Analyst. I am my sister’s keeper. This upcoming Saturday, March 10, marks the 13th year for National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day (NWGHAAD), when “national and community organizations come together to show support for women and girls impacted by HIV and AIDS.” The lives and stories of women reflected in recent statistics underscores the continued need for the observance of NWGHAAD.

> Read more about NWGHAAD

 

“Women and HIV in the South” Webinar March 21

 NMAC’s Community Spotlight Series continues March 21 at 3:00 PM EST with a webinar on Women and HIV in the South, featuring Gina Brown, Community Organizer for the Southern AIDS Coalition.

 > Register now!

 

 

Time’s Running Out to Join NMAC’s Constituent Advisory Panels

There are only 15 days left to apply to join NMAC’s Constituent Advisory Panels (CAPs). CAPs will advise NMAC on workshops, institutes, plenaries, and scholarship decisions for the 2018 USCA and Summit.

For more information and to apply for CAP membership, visit our website.

 

NMAC’s Youth Initiative Launches for 2018

NMAC has opened the eighth cycle of the Youth Initiative program to train future leaders in the fight against the HIV epidemic. The seven-month program is open to applicants ages 18-25. Youth living with HIV or on PrEP, LGBTQ, youth of color, and young cis & trans women are particularly encouraged to apply. For more information or to apply, visit the NMAC website. Applications are due by April 10.

>  Learn more about how you can apply

 

ON SSDI But Want to Work? Join Our March 9 Webinar!

On Social Security Disability? Want to work but worried about losing your healthcare or benefits? Join us for our webinar “A Message of Hope for Social Security Disability Beneficiaries” on Friday, March 9, 3:00 PM EST and learn from the National Disability Institute about incentives and supports that can get you back in action.

National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day (NWGHAAD)

I am my sister’s keeper. This upcoming Saturday, March 10, 2018 marks the 13th year for National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day (NWGHAAD), when “national and community organizations come together to show support for women and girls impacted by HIV and AIDS.”[i]  The lives and stories of women reflected in recent statistics underscores the continued need for the observance of NWGHAAD. According to the Office of Women’s Health, “about one in four people living with HIV in the United States is female. Only about half of women living with HIV are getting care, and only four in 10 of them have the virus under control.”[ii] According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “of women living with HIV, around 11% do not know they are infected.”[iii]

 

For me personally, NWGHAAD is an opportunity to thoughtfully remember the women with whom I have served alongside since I began my work in the HIV movement in the early 2000s who have passed on (but, their names live on in my heart). On NWGHAAD, and as often as we are led, may each of us take a moment to speak the names of every grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, cousin, and female friend we’ve lost to HIV. May we honor the memory of these amazing, beautiful, courageous, and strong women with a renewed commitment to end the HIV epidemic in our lifetime. We currently have the biomedical, behavioral, social, and systemic tools to successfully prevent and treat HIV. So, let’s make ending the epidemic a reality.

 

While there is much for us to celebrate on NWGHAAD (such as the decrease in annual HIV diagnoses amongst women), we must not forget the disproportionate impact experienced by cis and transgender women of color.  According to the CDC, “among all women with HIV diagnosed in 2015, 61% (4,524) were African American, 19% (1,431) were white, and 15% (1,131) were Hispanic/Latina.”[iv] Moreover, of the 2,351 transgender people who were diagnosed with HIV from 2009 to 2014, 84% (1,974) were transgender women.[v] Amongst transgender women, in that same time period, 51% (1,002) were African American and 29% (578) were Latina.[vi]

 

Addressing issues specifically faced by cis and trans women of color remains critical to end the epidemic. Since joining the NMAC team last year, I have had the honor of discussing HIV prevention and treatment with several cis and trans women of color who are living with and affected by HIV. The adverse impacts of Internalized and externalized stigma are real, pervasive and crippling our ability to prevent and treat HIV in women, especially cis and trans women of color. Many cis and trans women of color are not engaging in meaningful conversations about their sexual health. Women of color as well as their providers often do not perceive women of color as being at risk for HIV. Women of color are being talked out of HIV tests and PrEP prescriptions by their providers. Some of these women are seroconverting despite their knowledge, willingness, and the availability of PrEP. Moreover, women are being diagnosed at more advanced stages of HIV with a higher viral load and lower CD4 count due to not being aware of their status earlier. Furthermore, women are less likely to achieve viral suppression than men. All of this is unacceptable.

 

It is within our power to change this unacceptable narrative. The conversations I’ve had with cis and trans women of color from across the country, but mostly with those from the South, have challenged and inspired me to continue collaborating in order to address the unique challenges women face that hinder their ability to access and/or utilize HIV prevention or treatment services. Several opportunities can and must be pursued to end the epidemic:

  • Address unique challenges trans women of color face related to prioritizing their health care needs in a world wrought with interpersonal violence, threats of death, lack of healthcare access, housing insecurity and employment discrimination
  • Address unique issues all women of color face related to prioritizing their health care needs while juggling family, work and other responsibilities
  • Collect high-quality trans-specific data that accurately reflects the epidemic
  • Develop/Scale-up culturally responsive and linguistically appropriate prevention and treatment interventions for cis and trans Latinas
  • Educate providers about the importance of PrEP for cis and trans women of color
  • Normalize (and de-stigmatize) conversations about sexual health and behavior.
  • Recruit, hire, and equitably compensate cis and trans women of color to work in the HIV movement
  • Rethink PrEP marketing for cis and trans women of color

 

Together, as a community, we can end the HIV epidemic in women. Our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, and female friends are counting on each of us to do our part! You in?

 

Yours in the Struggle,

Sable K. Nelson

[i] https://www.womenshealth.gov/nwghaad/about-national-women-and-girls-hivaids-awareness-day

[ii] https://www.womenshealth.gov/nwghaad/about-national-women-and-girls-hivaids-awareness-day

[iii] https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/gender/women/index.html

[iv] https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/gender/women/index.html

[v] https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/gender/transgender/index.html

[vi] https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/gender/transgender/index.html

Important Happenings in HIV/Health Policy

Important Happenings in

HIV/Health Policy

Week Ending: March 2, 2018
By: Matthew Rose & Sable K. Nelson

White House Hosts Summit on Opioids

On Thursday, March 1st, the White House hosted a summit on opioids to highlight the progress the Administration has made to combat drug demand and the opioid crisis. Notable participants from the Trump Administration included:

  • Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • Jerome Adams, Surgeon General
  • Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use
  • Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health
  • Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of Food and Drugs
  • Gary Barksdale, Deputy Chief Postal Inspector
  • Megan Brennan, Postmaster General
  • Rob Patterson, Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Jesse Panuccio, Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General
  • Stephen C. Redd, MD Acting Principal Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control
  • Debra Houry, Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control
  • Thomas Homan, Senior Official Performing Duties of the Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • Peter Edge, Acting Deputy Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

External participants included approximately 200 individuals impacted by the opioid crisis, and non-profit organizations who focus on addiction and recovery. For more information, READ → https://www.nationalreview.com/blog/the-morning-jolt/ten-observations-from-the-white-house-opioid-summit/

 

CARA 2.0 Legislation on the Horizon:

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) 2.0 would authorize $1 billion per year in opioid funding, a substantial funding boost over the original legislation. The bipartisan opioid legislation introduced by eight Senators on Tuesday would allocate $300 million to expand access to medication to treat addiction and $200 million to build national infrastructure for recovery support services. It would also allocate $300 million toward first responder training and access for naloxone, a highly effective opioid overdose medication. Congress approved $6 billion in funding for combatting the opioid epidemic during the February spending bill, which CARA 2.0 would draw from. It’s still unclear how that money will be distributed, as a number of appropriations committees spanning health and law enforcement activities are looking to incorporate the funds. For more information, READ →  http://www.nola.com/health/index.ssf/2018/02/sen_bill_cassidy_introduces_bi.html

 

What NMAC is Doing About It

  • NMAC remains vigilant in its advocacy to protect FY18 & FY19 government funding. We will continue meeting with congressional leaders around the importance of HIV funding.

 

What You Can Do

TAKE ACTION: The President’s budget has cut or eliminated many important HIV/AIDS programs, it’s going to be a fight and our movement cannot afford to stand on the sidelines.  If we don’t support and advocate for HIV funding and programs, who will?  Funding decisions for FY18 will occur in the next few weeks, so your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives need to hear from you.

Celebrating Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month!
NMAC is focusing on all Women and HIV during Women’s History Month in March. The story of women in the HIV epidemic is often overlooked. We want to make sure that all women’s stories are told.
This month, we’ll feature women’s voices telling their stories of living with HIV, advocating for their communities, and living their best lives.

 

NMAC’s Leadership Institute Returns! 
NMAC is bringing back its Executive Director Leadership Institute on Wednesday, September5, the day prior to the start of USCA. This year’s meeting will focus on How to Survive During Difficult Political Times. The Institute is for Executive Directors and HIV and STD Health Department Directors. 

You MUST be registered for USCA to register for the Leadership Institute.
For more information and to register for the Institute, visit the USCA website.

 

Join 1st USCA Webinar: “How to Submit an Abstract” March 7th!
The deadline to submit an abstract for the US Conference on AIDS is April 6. That can be a confusing process, but NMAC is here to help!
Join us on Wednesday, March 7, for our first USCA 2018 webinar “How to Submit an Abstract. This free webinar will walk you through the entire submission process and give you a chance to ask any questions you may have.

 

Women’s History Month Community Spotlight Webinar March 21st
NMAC’s Community Spotlight Series continues March 21 at 3:00 PM EST with a webinar on Women and HIV, featuring Gina Brown, Community Organizer for the Southern AIDS Coalition. More details to come!

Register now!

African-Americans and HIV




New Year: New Newsletter

New Year, New Newsletter

You’ve probably noticed that this newsletter is very different from what we’ve done in the past. We felt it was time to give our newsletter a complete overhaul to give you more and better information about what’s going on here. Read more about our new newsletter.

 

NMAC Spotlight: Leadership Pipeline

The fight against HIV has been ongoing for nearly four decades and still has a long way to go. We will need new generations of advocates and activists to succeed long-time leaders. Through our Youth Initiative and our Building Leaders of Color (BLOC) programs, we are helping to create the HIV community’s leaders of tomorrow. Find out more about the Leadership Pipeline.

 

What’s in the Leadership Pipeline for 2018

You’d expect that the Pipeline has a busy 2018. And you’d be right! We have a full calendar of trainings and new initiatives to continue our mission of building the HIV leaders of the future. Check out what we have coming up!

 

Who is the Leadership Pipeline?

The Leadership Pipeline is led by Linda H. Scruggs and NMAC’s Retention and Recruitment Specialist, Charles Shazor Jr. Together, they work with people of color living with HIV to build a community of transformative community of leaders in the HIV movement. Their contact information is listed below:

                 
Linda H. Scruggs             Charles Shazor, Jr
Acting Director, LP            Recruitment and Retention Specialist                                                               (202) 603-3517                  (202) 302 -7515

 

Join Us for a Special Webinar!

NMAC’s Treatment program’s Advocacy and Education Webinar Series presents “Chemsex, HIV, and Aging: A Dialogue on Effects and Interventions” this Friday, January 5, 2018 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM EST.

This workshop will be a conversation between clinician and author David Fawcett (Lust, Men, and Meth), who will address the physical and clinical issues created by Chemsex; and recovering addict and HIV blogger Mark S. King (My Fabulous Disease), who will share the attraction and effects of Chemsex and his own recovery process. This conversational format will explore the risks, effects, and evidence-based interventions for Chemsex in an aging population of PLWHA.

You can register here https://attendee.gototraining.com/r/5565039952901605378. After registering you will receive a confirmation email with information about joining the training.

 

Keep the NMAC Connection in 2018

2018 will be a big year at NMAC. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s essential work to the health and well-being of the communities we serve. We hope you’ll join us for the exciting opportunities ahead.

NMAC Connection: A Challenging Road Ahead

NMAC Spotlight: Treatment

NMAC’s Treatment Division leads with race by asserting the unique needs of communities of color through its programs, advocacy, and policy work and NMAC’s conferences. Our programs expand our HIV health literacy agenda with an acute focus on biomedical prevention, effective treatment options, cure advocacy, and healthcare access and engagement activities in communities of color. Our advocacy and policy work leverages our collective strength as a community to protect healthcare reform and the gains we made towards ending the epidemic due to the Affordable Care Act as well as to fund critical HIV programs that help us end the epidemic. Our conferences work facilitates the sharing of research, data, smart policies, and community-informed best practices. To find out more about Treatment, please visit our website.

Treatment had a very successful 2017 and has big plans for 2018. Read more on our website.

Who’s in the Treatment Division?

          
Moises Agosto-Rosario     Matthew Rose
Treatment Director             Policy and Advocacy Manager
(202) 836-3669                  (202) 834-1472

         
Fernando De Hoyos           Sable K. Nelson
Treatment Coordinator       Policy Analyst
(202) 836-2226                   (202) 997-0951

Guest Voice: David Harvey, Executive Director of the National Coalition of STD Directors

From time to time, NMAC will include voices from outside our organization to present different views, research studies, or other commentary. This week, we’re pleased to feature David Harvey, Executive Director of the National Coalition of STD Directors.

Paul Kawata recently wrote that he is willing to live with the “trade-off” of increasing STDs if it means we can end the HIV epidemic. I thank Paul for publicly raising what so many have raised in private – but I think this is the wrong framing of the issue. I argue that we cannot end HIV without acknowledging an inconvenient truth: the HIV and STD epidemics are inextricably linked and without combatting both, we won’t end HIV.
(click here to read David’s full statement)

Mark Your Calendars! USCA Sept. 6-9

Please mark your calendar for the 2018 United States Conference on AIDS to be held September 6-9 in Orlando, Florida. NMAC initially moved USCA to Orlando to support a city that was devastated by the massacre at Pulse Nightclub. It was a tragic and unthinkable loss of life and, like the HIV epidemic, it left behind a community that was both broken and committed to rebuilding. Two years later, what are the lessons the HIV community can learn from this adversity? How do we honor this unspeakable loss while the rest of the world moves on to other issues?

Read more about USCA 2018 here

A Challenging Road Ahead

We have a lot of work ahead of us in 2018. We hope you’ll join us to resist efforts to harm, marginalize, and stigmatize the HIV community and all communities at risk for HIV. Keep watching here and on our website to see how you can help!

A Response to HHS

Nation’s Leading HIV & STD Organizations Oppose Formation of New “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” at HHS

Washington, DC — AIDS United, NASTAD, the National Coalition of STD Directors, NMAC, and The AIDS Institute, jointly condemned the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announcement today of the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division (CRFD) in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The CRFD will be tasked with “restor[ing] federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.” To those of us who work to promote the health of LGBTQ people, those living with HIV, including people of color, and other marginalized communities, we recognize this as dog-whistle politics and an attempt at state-sanctioned discrimination. The Trump administration is extending federal, legal cover to providers who can potentially deny medical care for transgender individuals, women, or same-sex couples, including the full range of reproductive health services and any other procedure an employee or licensed health facility may object to, on so-called “moral” grounds. The new division will invite health professionals to misinterpret and ignore current legal and medical standards, putting the health and safety of patients at risk.

In its announcement of the office, HHS spokesperson OCR Director Roger Severino offered the false choice that “no one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions.” However, we contend that no one should be denied medical care because their doctor or provider objects to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or reproductive autonomy. LGBTQ and other minority and marginalized communities, especially those living with HIV, already face discrimination and significant barriers to accessing critical prevention and care services.

The Office of Civil Rights should focus its efforts on ensuring access to care, particularly for communities who suffer devastating health disparities because of the discrimination they face. In its denial of the experience of those whose very lives are endangered by provider discrimination, the CRFD makes a mockery of the Office of Civil Rights and we urge the administration to reverse course.

###

AIDS United (AU), NASTAD, the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), NMAC, and The AIDS Institute (TAI) are national non-partisan, non-profit organizations focused on ending HIV, STDs and Viral Hepatitis in the U.S. They have been working in partnership to identify and share resources to sustain successes and progress we have made in HIV. STD, and hepatitis prevention, care and treatment in the United States.