To read, click here.
To read, click here.
The United States Conference on HIV/AIDS is a safe space for people highly impacted by HIV. Please read and follow the Anti-Harassment Policy. The gathering values diversity, equality, and justice. Attendees can be themselves in all their fabulosity. However, the world still hates us, so please be careful outside of the bubble. Out of respect and to honor Congresswoman Maxine Waters and all the Black Women (cis & trans) fighting to end the epidemic, we ask attendees to dress in their Sunday Best for the Opening Plenary on Wednesday, September 6th. Crowns are optional but encouraged. Last year staff wore Guayaberas, this year maybe crowns. Being an ally opens your world to new experiences and traditions. Learning the values, hopes, and dreams of the communities we need to reach is central to our work. As we have documented, there is not a one size fits all PrEP program. Our efforts must speak to the diversity of people our work needs to reach and do it by honoring their cultures.
The 2023 USCHA will be one of our largest gatherings. Our movement is showing up for Black Women the way they show up for us. Registration is closed because we’ve reached capacity. I apologize to folks who cannot attend. I know it’s disappointing. There is an underground market for registrations but we do not recommend buying a registration from a stranger.
USCHA asks for patience and understanding when moving thousands of people from workshops to plenaries back to workshops. Community drives the vision and trainings. USCHA thanks the amazing advisory committee:
Early on, I was politely told to stay out. The meeting was curated by Black Women and my job was to learn how to be an ally. Before you talk about what the meeting didn’t include, experience all the new things that are added this year. Let USCHA unfold and be surprised. Don’t let the haters take your joy!
While the focus is on Black Women, the online agenda lists workshops, posters, and institutes that address the variety of communities highly impacted by HIV. It is interesting that I did not get the same feedback last year when we focused on Puerto Rico. Think of the women who sit through too many HIV meetings that mostly prioritize men.
Thirty-five percent of the attendees are living with HIV. COVID is on an upswing. USCHA encourages all attendees to wear masks. Since we are not experts, the conference will follow all local health department rules. We invite participants to be fully vaccinated.
Please use social media to tell the story of Black Women and HIV. There will be many Instagramable Moments! Post or link to NMAC’s Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube pages. HIV is not over; we are still fighting to end the epidemic. The public narrative is dominated by anti-woke elected officials who want to “take America back.” We need a counter narrative that celebrates the beauty and diversity of our communities, particularly the transgender community. If we don’t fight back, they win.
For new attendees, protests are part of the USCHA experience. It is in the DNA of our movement. However, USCHA draws a clear line between protests and violence. Violence is never acceptable. If your agency is planning a demonstration, please let the organizers know in advance. The optics of a protest can be very challenging if you are shutting down the voices of Black Women.
USCHA could not happen without our sponsors, particularly to cover the cost of hundreds of scholarships. We are grateful for their support.
I look forward to seeing everyone. Please be safe, as travel is crazy right now. Download the conference app. Late breaking information will be posted there. There will not be a printed program; however, you can print out the online version.
Yours in the Struggle,
Kim Ferrell, NMAC’s Deputy Director for Operations, came into my life 18 years ago. I was a broken man struggling to hide my damage. The epidemic had taken a heavy toll. I suffered trauma from losing too many and rage for how long it took to get treatments that worked. Back then I pushed down and denied my emotions and pain. Kim gave me the gift of unconditional love. She was always in my corner helping me to be a better man, even when others stopped believing in me. Even when I stopped believing in myself.
The theme for the 2023 United States Conference on HIV/AIDS is a Love Letter to Black Women. The spark was because Kim is retiring. This love letter thanks her and all the Black Women who fight to end the epidemic.
NMAC’s story would not have happened without Kim. She is our backbone and north star. Staff and the board depend on her counsel, understanding, and good judgement. If you need to get something accomplished, you know to go to Kim. I am proud and honored to celebrate her and all the Black Women leaders who changed our world.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters will keynote the Opening Plenary on Wednesday, September 6th. She is the original OG Black Woman leader who fought with us since the beginning of the epidemic. I first met the Congresswomen back when she was in the California State Assembly. She was close to Archbishop Carl Bean (Minority AIDS Project), so our paths crossed in too many hospital rooms and funerals. NMAC continues to work with her and Congresswoman Barbara Lee on the Minority AIDS Initiative. The MAI is part of her iconic congressional legacy NMAC hopes to turn this legislation into a bill to be named after her, the Maxine Waters Minority AIDS Initiative. Unfortunately, the current Congress makes that impossible.
The conference is almost sold out. Plenaries will be crowded and can get claustrophobic. We ask for patience and understanding. Please let attendees who need support to stand or walk to enter in advance of the rush. The gathering may trigger feelings, so trained counselors are available to help. Contact the USCHA office for more information. The meeting also provides free childcare, but you must register in advance.
The Black Women Who Founded NMAC
This year’s meeting is a love letter to all cis and trans Black Women who work to end the epidemics of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis. I remember the Black Women who were core to NMAC’s history. Two NMAC board members that we lost way too soon, Pandora Singleton and Janet Mitchell. Pandora started Project Azuka, and Janet was a doctor at Harlem Hospital. Rashida Abdul-Khabeer (formerly Hassan), Sandra McDonald, and Marie St Cyr were founding board members along with Suki Ports. Rashida started BEBASHI, Sandra started Outreach, and Marie started WARN (Women’s AIDS Resource Center). Then there are all the powerful Black Women in the field. The reality that there are so many leaders speaks volumes about the important roles Black Women hold in the fight to end HIV, STDs and Hepatitis.
Toni Newman and Lauren Miller show the importance of having trans leaders as staff. They work with NMAC’s TGNC (Transgender & Gender Nonconforming) CAP to bring diverse voices to NMAC and the conference. Gender is a social construct and not binary. People fall all along the spectrum. NMAC acknowledges and supports all the nonbinary and gender nonconforming leaders in our movement. USCHA is dedicated to Black Women and stands in solidarity with all genders.
NMAC’s Coalition for Justice and Equality Across Movements has partnered with the National Action Network and Drum Major Institute for the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. Join us on Aug 26 because too much is at stake to sit on the sidelines (Mow60.com #MOW60). If you want to march with NMAC at the 60th March on Washington, Saturday, August 26th, at 11 am, and receive a Coalition t-shirt, please email Destiny Pearson
Look online for the latest USCHA information. While the city no longer requires proof of vaccination, USCHA encourages everyone to wear masks. Please be up to date with vaccines. If you feel sick, isolate in your room, and call the conference office.
Part of me thinks my Asian ancestors would be appalled by such a public display of affection, and maybe that’s why I wrote this letter. I wanted to show Kim that I was listening and to let Black Women know how thankful NMAC is for your leadership and courage. Our movement is stronger and more compassionate because of you. We are forever grateful.
Yours in the Struggle,
I invite all cis and trans men to bring our best Kenergy to this year’s United States Conference on HIV/AIDS and stand up for Black Women like Ken stands up for Barbie. Sometimes as men we don’t understand how important it is to show up and be present and caring when it’s not about us. USCHA thanks, appreciates, and loves all the women (cis and trans) who commit their lives to ending the epidemic. We are stronger and better because you are here.
As a child I loved my Barbie, especially the little plastic high heels. Looking back, I am grateful that my mother allowed me to play with her without shame. Yet even with mom’s support, I knew the world did not want boys to play with dolls. We were supposed to like guns and GI Joe. Not me. I wanted the Dream House and Ken. Like Ken believes in Barbie, I believe in Black Women. They taught me about unconditional love and acceptance. They helped me to understand that I did not have to live my parent’s dream to be a dentist. I could be an outrageous Queen. Black Women gave me a roadmap and courage to break away from my family’s expectations, and I am eternally grateful.
Remember Black women (cis & trans) are not monolithic. Workshops, posters, plenaries, and special events will paint a picture of their beautiful complexity, but there is so much more. Unfortunately, there is not enough time or space to honor everyone who should be honored. We can only give a snapshot. An outside advisory committee of Black Women provided counsel and worked collaboratively on the details. Whenever possible, we used Black Women owned businesses and technical staff. The gathering won’t be perfect, but it will be community.
I got some hateful messages asking “why is the meeting focusing on Black Women? Why a love letter?” It pisses me off and makes me sad. Do not put your shit on this important gathering! I will not let the haters steal our joy as USCHA grinds to stand in Black Girl Magic. There is too much to accomplish, and the women of NMAC and our movement have labored too hard to create a vibe and positive experience.
For the men attending USCHA, I need you to be an ally, to be your best version of Ken. Too often if it’s not about us, then we aren’t interested. Part of the reason the world feels out of control and scary is that America divided into camps and the crazy people took advantage of our silos. Alone we might not be strong enough, but together we are a force of nature that can change the world. As the radical right goes after women, people of color, LBGTQ community, gun control, climate change, immigrants, affirmative action, and too many others, we must stand together. It starts by showing up and listening.
Here is what you need to be mad about, License to Discriminate Riders were added to 11 different federal spending bills, including the bill that supports HIV services. House leaders have added riders that allow discrimination against LGBTQ people under the guise of religious liberty. These riders prohibit federal agencies from reducing or terminating federal contracts if an organization justifies their discrimination based on the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Anti-Gender Affirming Care Riders were added to seven different federal spending bills that would restrict access to gender-affirming care or limit funding to organizations that provide gender-affirming care. Note: In the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill, the language also prohibits funds for any organization that “promotes transgenderism” which ultimately cuts off any organization that recognizes, affirms, and supports the transgender community.
Pride Flag Riders were added to seven spending bills. These riders would prohibit funds from being used to fly pride flags. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Riders (DEI) were added to 10 spending bills. These riders would prohibit funds from being used to implement, administer, apply, enforce, or carry out Executive Orders on DEI. Drag Show Riders were in the State and Defense budgets. They would prohibit these agencies from supporting events with drag queens, such as a drag queen story hour for children or the use of drag queens as military recruiters.
Be mad about these riders, especially since they can also be added to Continuing Resolutions (CR) that are used to keep the government open. NMAC is supporting PrEP4All and 60 other agencies to host a Press Conference the day prior to the start of USCHA in the Senate Swamp. We invite all USCHA attendees to join. More information will follow. The press conference will thank the Senate for restoring the domestic HIV budget, particularly funds for ending the HIV epidemic. Our movement will call on Congress to pass a clean budget or CR that has none of these discriminatory riders.
USCHA is a training camp to educate and update leaders to end the epidemics of HIV, STDs, and Hepatitis. It is also a “family reunion” that brings together advocates to support and share acceptance in a world that hates and discriminates against our right to exist. Our movement must stand with Black Women if we are ever going to end the HIV epidemic. Thank you for attending, I am really excited for everyone to experience what these remarkable women have curated.
Our thoughts and prayers are with our colleagues at the Maui AIDS Foundation.
I end this e-newsletter with sad news: Ernesto Aldana gained his wings.
Yours in the Struggle,
Our movement lost another giant. I dedicate this e-newsletter to Dr. Stephaun E. Wallace. Dr. Wallace was the Director of External Relations of both the COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN) and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) based at Fred Hutch, a Staff Scientist in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division (Fred Hutch), a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington, and Director of the Office of Community Engagement in the University of Washington/Fred Hutch Center for AIDS Research. The 2024 Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit is in Seattle at his urging. Please join us to honor his legacy on April 18-19, 2024, in Seattle at the Hyatt Regency.
There is too much loss and pain. I look forward to hugging everyone at this year’s United States Conference on HIV/AIDS. Between Braidwood, Tennessee, House HIV budget cuts, and the ongoing weaponization of the communities hardest hit by HIV, particularly the transgender community, the world sometimes feels out of control. This year’s USCHA is a love letter to ALL Black Women. The spark was to honor Kim Ferrell, NMAC’s Deputy Director for Operations, but it was never limited to her. USCHA will celebrate and send love to all the cis and trans Black Women in our movement, and remember those who have gone too soon, current leaders on the frontline, and the next generation stepping up to end the HIV epidemic.
As you have seen in the past, I am an extreme control queen. Usually, I micromanage the smallest details; however, last year in San Juan I learned the importance of letting go so Puerto Rican staff and constituents could lead. This year’s USCHA was turned over to Black women leaders on our staff, board, community advisory boards and constituents. The 2023 meeting was envisioned, planned, and executed entirely by Black Women. As a result, I can honestly say it is going to be amazing. This will be one for the record books that should not be missed. We want you to be surprised so we are not sharing everything in advance.
As an ally, you will see me at the meeting, but I will not be speaking. The stage is for Black Women. There are also sacred spaces only for Black Women like the Black Women’s Summit. Women need to talk and share in gatherings that are safe and confidential. I’m asking all men, cis and trans, to show up as allies without mansplaining your way into the room. Please do not complain that the meeting is not about you. Think of all the gatherings that women sit through that focus primarily on men. USCHA has workshops and sessions on all the communities highly impacted by HIV. Check out the agenda.
The Federal Plenary will include speakers from the White House, HHS, CDC, HRSA, NIH, HUD, SAMHSA, and the FDA to update our movement on efforts to end the HIV epidemic. These agencies were asked to identify Black Women leaders to make these presentations. Too often it is only men who speak, this year we will be joined by
- Dr. Kaye Hayes, HHS
- Dr. Robyn Neblett Fanfair, CDC
- Ms. Yemisi Odusanya, HRSA
- Dr. Mary Roary, SAMHSA
- Dr. Janine Clayton, NIH
While it should not be revolutionary, I don’t recall a Federal Plenary that only had Black Women. It is important for men to show up and listen and be the allies that our movement needs us to be, especially right now. All of us are targets in the culture wars. Our ability to stand together and fight starts by supporting and learning about the communities highly impacted by HIV. Black women are 20 times more likely than white women to get HIV. This year’s meeting will celebrate and educate about the diversity of Black Women fighting to end the HIV epidemic.
Yours in the Struggle,
- $3.8 billion cut to NIH
- $220 million cut to CDC (eliminating EHE funding)
- $238 million cut to HRSA (eliminating EHE & Part F support)
- $32 million cut to the Minority AIDS Initiative
- Eliminate all SAMHSA MAI support
- Eliminate all Title X and Teen Pregnancy Prevention programs
- $6 million increase to HOPWA
- Prohibits the use of funds to promote or advance Critical Race Theory (CRT).
- Prohibits implementation of the Biden Administration’s Executive Orders on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
- Prohibits funds to enforce Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria for investing in retirement plans.
- Protects Americans against religious discrimination related to their views on marriage.
- Prohibits implementation of other controversial Biden Administration rules and Executive Orders, such as student loan repayment waivers and rules enforcing “gender identity” that require biological boys to be allowed to compete against girls in women’s sports.
- Includes a new private right of action to ensure that individuals who believe their conscience rights under the Weldon Amendment have been violated can have their complaint heard and adjudicated by a court, rather than the biased Biden Administration Office for Civil Rights at HHS.
- Maintains the Dickey Amendment, which ensures that federal funds cannot be used to advocate or promote gun control.
- Protects religious freedom of students on college campuses with language that ensures religious student groups are treated equally and not discriminated against in access to campus facilities or recognition.
- Prohibits the use of funds to perform medical procedures that attempt to change an individual’s biological gender.
- Prohibits implementation of Biden Executive Order on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination.
The HIV movement needs the Senate and the White House to push back and hold the line for at least a continuing resolution (CR). Unfortunately, to raise the debt ceiling, the administration agreed to several “poison pills” including that non-defense discretionary spending would be set at one percent below current year levels if a budget is not passed. However, a 1% decrease is better than the cuts recommended by the House.
I believe the stunning $3.8 billion cut to NIH is payback from select House members against Dr. Fauci, even though he retired. It has nothing to do with NIH or the need for a strong research infrastructure. In fact, this cut will make America more vulnerable the next time a new virus spreads across the world. And there will be a next time.
It is important to understand the HIV budget cuts have nothing to do with the effectiveness of programs and services and everything to do with the communities hardest hit by HIV. We are an extension of the culture wars playing out in America. After Braidwood and Tennessee, no one should be surprised. I hope the House overplayed their hand with these cuts and riders, but a lot depends on our next steps.
Normally staying quiet is the best strategy to survive in Washington. It’s been used by the HIV movement with much success. When the fight is specifically about our funding and the communities we serve, then the way forward is less clear. Whether we like it or not, between the communities we serve and our dependence on government funding, our movement is in the crosshairs. I don’t recall a time when there was so much HIV funding at risk.
Every organization needs to figure out their own strategy. I’m sharing NMAC’s to keep the field informed. Abortions, homosexuality, people of trans experience, affirmative action, gun control, and civil rights are bad in their eyes. Overturning Roe opened to doors to re-litigate what most thought was settled. This is the “make America great again” strategy in real time.
Did I make you gasp?
I’m calling an All-Hands-on Deck discussion at NMAC with our staff, board, consultants, and partners. The Partnership to End the Epidemics talked on Friday with the White House. We need their leadership in this fight. The Federal AIDS Policy Partnership held an emergency call to share information and talk strategy. These attempts to cut HIV funding won’t stop. Like with reproductive health, their goal is to completely defund HIV prevention, care, and research using the arguments outlined in the Braidwood case. It is against their religious beliefs, and they want to end public support for homosexual sex.
Fortunately, the HIV movement includes multiple Washington based policy staff from multiple national organizations who daily fight for more funding and to stop negative amendments. This will be a test of our ability to work together with the Senate, White House, and community. Collectively we’ve changed the world; however, I’ve seen people do some crazy things in the name of God. With the Presidential election next year, this really is turning into a fight for the soul of this country.
Yours in the Struggle,
Take Me Home is not only a 1979 disco hit by Cher, but also an important initiative to distribute one million free HIV self-tests over the next five years. Click on the link to see if you are eligible. Together Take Me Home is funded by the CDC, in partnership with Emory University, BHOC, NASTAD, Signal Group, and OraSure. Just to be clear, Cher is not involved in this initiative, but I know she supports us! Anyone who could pull off a gold metal bikini with a winged headdress must be on our side.
The CDC says 13% of Americans living with HIV are unaware of their status. June 27th is National HIV Testing Day. Please post a photo of Cher on your social media and hyperlink to the Take Me Home website (https://bit.ly/takemehome_1). Use this awareness day to inform EVERYONE about free home HIV test kits. Hashtag #Cher, #NMAC, and other friends. Ask them to share with their networks. Maybe even the Queen herself will respond; you never know. Too many people living with HIV are unaware of their status. Shaming never works. This program overcomes two important barriers: it’s free and you can do it at home. Everyone is concerned about privacy, so here is their policy. I’ve worked with the CDC for decades and they take this very seriously.
It took me a long time to take my first HIV test. It was the 1980s and there were no treatments, so I figured “why bother?” I assumed I was positive because there was no difference between me and too many of my friends who were sick and dying. I had enough trauma! I didn’t need to add my HIV status. I was also a scared kid in my 20s with his whole life ahead of him. Did I want to know I was dying when there were no options? Way too late I took the test, to find out I was negative. That result is still a mystery. I did everything and more. I don’t want to add to the stigma of being positive, so I seldom mention my HIV status. I continue to get an annual HIV test. Lately, I do it in solidarity with gay men and not necessarily for me. Technology has changed the way we interact with the world. In the olden days you made an appointment for an HIV test by calling on a phone, walk/drive to your clinic, wait in line in a public space, hear your name getting called, answering questions that could be embarrassing, getting your blood drawn, and waiting. I mean days. Now it can happen in the privacy of your home with proven technology and its free.
The CDC, Emory, BHOC, NASTAD, Signal Group, and OraSure are betting that free and convenient can overcome hesitancy, particularly in the communities hardest hit by HIV. While it’s too early for results, I appreciate the innovation. Our work needs to grow and expand with the times. That means using home testing options that were previously unavailable. Work to end the epidemic must prioritize HIV testing. It is the entry point to care and/or HIV prevention/PrEP.
As we expand our efforts to reach the communities hardest hit by HIV, we need to build and reach their social media. TikTok clearly has an algorithm to identify those influencers. Let’s ask/pay them to post about this initiative. HIV prevention understands the value of reaching communities where they are. Right now, many of them are on social media. Sharing content by telling stories builds an army of influencers who post about HIV. How do we use these tools to increase our HIV testing, PrEP, and U=U numbers? It starts with posting photos of Cher and directing people to the Together Take Me Home webpage.
This is not an NMAC initiative; however, as a CDC PACT leader, we support this important effort. Part of my job is to highlight good work happening across our movement. As a young gay boy, I have many memories of Cher and her Bob Mackie gowns. It’s part of the reason why I knew I was gay. I didn’t want to be with Cher, I wanted to wear her dresses. To be as fierce and outrageous as the original. Cher is part of the pantheon of heroes who helped us survive some very difficult times.
Yours in the Struggle,
By the end of June, the Supreme Court will hand down decisions on two cases that could have profound impacts on our world. Happy Pride! After overturning Roe, we should not be surprised. While the cases are not HIV specific, these decisions could hurt communities highly impacted by HIV. The two cases include:
- 303 Creative LLC vs. Elenis
- Affirmative Action
303 Creative LLC vs. Elenis is about freedom of speech and public accommodation. Does the owner of 303 Creative LLC have the right to publish the following on her websites, “I will not be able to create websites for same-sex marriages or any other marriage that is not between one man and one woman. Doing that would compromise my Christian witness and tell a story about marriage that contradicts God’s true story of marriage.”
Since we already lost the case of the Christian baker who did not want to make wedding cakes for a same-sex couples, there is precedence to discriminate. What makes this different is her desire to put this statement on her corporate webpage. Does her right to free speech supersede local ordinances against discrimination in public accommodation?
Make no mistake, the wording is different, but the sentiment is the same. People of color have a long history fighting these actions, and they seldom end well. If she is allowed to post this statement, does that open the door for other businesses to follow? Does it stop with same sex marriages? What about others who compromise her Christian witness, for example, Muslims or atheists? While I am not concerned about a single website developer, I am very concerned that this seems to be part of a larger concerted effort to weaponize my community. When SCOTUS flipped, it seemed like an inflection point to ramp-up their campaign of hate. This year there are multiple court cases, hundreds of pieces of legislation, and too many elected officials leaning into the culture wars. It can’t be a coincidence. As they rewrite the role of the courts in our democracy, it becomes a pathway for the minority to control and “bring America back.”
You may not remember, but there was a time when funeral homes regularly refused to cremate people who died from AIDS. Hospitals turned away or made people living with HIV so uncomfortable as to make them leave. Laws to stop discrimination in public accommodations were written for a reason. If she wins, then we, the LGBTQ community, will in fact be second class citizens. People and corporations will not only legally be allowed to discriminate against us, but they can also explicitly note that in their communications. Most large corporations will continue to support the LGBTQ community; however, this decision further divides our country and stokes the flames of discrimination and hate. It also could set the precedent that hate speech overrides local or state laws protecting access to public accommodations.
Affirmative Action is also under review by this court. While most of the press is focused on higher education, it is important to understand the implications this decision could have on efforts to end the HIV epidemic in America. The Minority AIDS Initiative was created in the late ’90s to build organizations and infrastructure in communities of color to address the epidemic. At that time, people of color were disproportionately impacted by HIV.
The Bush Administration used a previous Supreme Court ruling on Affirmative Action to gut the MAI. Funding priorities went from minority led nonprofits to minority serving nonprofits. That simple change decimated many of the minority led HIV organizations. To this day it is still being used as the reason change is impossible. An unintended consequence is that 10 years after the MAI was gutted, people of color became the majority of new cases and the majority of people living with HIV.
Black Lives Matter moved the dialogue about race in America. It was a reckoning that both opened important discussions and scared others to “take back America.” NMAC, along with the Latino Commission on AIDS, SF Community Health Center, and Southern AIDS Coalition are working with Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Congresswoman Barbara Lee to bring a portion of the MAI back to its original congressional intent. This year we got so close, and all of us remain committed to this effort. We will continue to work with the Congressional Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ+ Equality and HIV caucuses.
The HIV movement knows race matters. You see it in our programs, services, and staff. In many ways we are the model for diversity. So why does our work fail to reach so many in need? What are the systemic changes needed to bend the curve of new HIV infections. Recently CDC data showed a significant decrease in the cases of HIV, unfortunately those decreases were not across the board.
HIV sits at the intersection of so many critical and divisive challenges in America. Community based nonprofits and health departments are to be applauded for their ability to hire people with lived experience. This means many of your employees come from the communities hardest hit by HIV. They/we expect you to stand up and fight for community and to fight for our shared values and humanity, especially as we are weaponized for political gain. The pain is not just out there, it is also in our house. America feels like it is overrun with homophobia, racism, sexism, and transphobia. Not only are the consumers we need to reach in trauma, but our staffs are in trauma. I am in trauma.
Allowing her to write on our webpage, “I will not be able to create websites for same-sex marriages or any other marriage that is not between one man and one woman. Doing that would compromise my Christian witness and tell a story about marriage that contradicts God’s true story of marriage.” is the equivalent of No F@gs Allowed. Not only does it legalize trauma and discrimination, but it also supersedes any state or city public accommodation laws.
Yours in the Struggle,
Ending HIV is about more than stopping a virus. To be successful, it’s about creating a world that is more equitable. It gives voice and power to communities who for too long have been denied justice. Ending HIV is the symbolic expression of our fight for racial justice and health equity. I was fortunate to be invited to the White House for World AIDS Day. I share the experience not to brag, but to be your eyes and ears to history. Work to end the epidemic starts by reading the plan. The White House event was the public declaration of support from the Biden/Harris administration. Due to COVID, not everyone could attend. We are all part of this history. This is my experience of being in the room when the President of the United States used the bully pulpit of the White House to commit to ending the HIV epidemic by 2030.
I live close enough to walk. It was a beautiful cold December day. I journeyed down Black Lives Matter Plaza to see the two-story Red Ribbon at the front of the White House. During the Regan years, I was arrested at the exact same spot where I am now a guest. Seeing the ribbon was bittersweet because there are too many friends who should be here.
Since it is a few weeks before Christmas, everything was festive and decked out for the holidays. The entry was an archway of boxes wrapped as gifts. It felt like a huge gift to be invited. Most of the guests were taking selfies at these Instagramable moments. Here I am with John Barnes (Funders Concerned About AIDS) and Arianna Lint (Arianna’s Center). While you see our smiling faces in the pictures, we only took off our masks for photos. With all our time in isolation, people weren’t sure if we should hug or bump elbows. Since I had my booster, I’m hugging everyone, but with a mask on.
The White House is the physical representation of America’s power in the world. As a result, staff work very hard to make everything perfect by paying attention to the details. It’s kind of like Disneyland on steroids. Everyone is so polite and happy. Members of the military are in full dress uniforms greeting everyone with “welcome to the White House.” I think they purposely select good-looking people for these roles.
The first tree on display is the Gold Star Tree that honors the heroic men and women in the military who died for our country. There were too many gold stars, each had the name of someone who made the ultimate sacrifice. In that way, it reminded me of the Names Project quilts. Too many lives lost too soon. I was on the mall when this display happened. I remember the excitement when the President and Mrs. Clinton walked onto the quilt display area.
Part of the fun in visiting the White House is going into the rooms that most of us only see on TV. The picture with Admiral Rachel Levine, our Assistant Secretary for Health, was taken in the State Dining Room. President Lincoln is looking over our shoulders. It fills my heart with so much LGBTQ pride. Not that long ago, neither of us would be welcomed into the White House. It is hard to describe what it means to stand with the four-star admiral in the Public Health Service who also brings her experience as a transgender pediatrician to the fight. This photo might make some people mad, but there are many more who will see it as a sign of hope. The genie is out of the bottle and we will never go back. Admiral Levine is a living example of how far we’ve come, but there is still a long way to go. NMAC looks forward to working with her office as the leader for HHS’s efforts to end the epidemic.
I was also excited to meet Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the first Black Lesbian Mayor of Chicago. She was a good sport as I escorted/shoved her around the room to meet Dr. Fauci, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis (CDC), Dr. Stephen Lee (NASTAD) and Harold Phillips (White House). Only one person in the above photos is straight. How cool is that? I told the mayor that NMAC looks forward to coming to her city, maybe as soon as the Spring of 2022. If one of our Chicago constituents can forward her these pictures, I would appreciate it.
The main presentation was in the East Room of the White House. The symbolic nature of having a seat at the table was not lost on me. Like so many in our movement, I’ve spent my entire life fighting for health equity and racial justice as stepping stones to end the epidemic. There is no way this kid from Seattle could imagine sitting in the White House with world leaders. Yet there I was with my red jacket and sparkly shoes. In the world of blue and grey suits, I stood out like the flower that I am. Even at the White House, I refuse to confirm. Being a gay person of color is my badge of honor. It took me a long time to find the self-acceptance to love the Asian queen that I am. I make sure nobody mistakes me for being heterosexual. Not that being heterosexual is a bad thing, it’s just not what I want to be.
There were many members of Congress in attendance. Our shero House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the delegation that included Congressmembers Maxine “Auntie Max” Waters, Barbara Lee, Sean Patrick Maloney, David Cicilline, and Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon. The President reminded attendees that Mrs. Pelosi came to Washington to fight AIDS. With her leadership, HIV continues to be prioritized by Congress. I met the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon and invited her to speak at the 2022 United States Conference on HIV/AIDS in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Members of Congress are key to HIV appropriations and funding our efforts to end the epidemic. I was so proud that we could honor Mrs. Pelosi at this year’s USCHA.
When Harold Phillips, the head of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) walked into the East Room, the audience broke into spontaneous applause. It was a moment. Here was one of our own, a Black Gay man living with HIV who was in charge. I ran over to hug him as he whispered, “don’t you make me cry.” I said, “too late I am crying enough for both of us.” The official announcement started with HHS Secretary Becerra. He would introduce the person who would introduce the President. Remember, this is Washington and there are very strict protocols.
It is always a surprise to see who the White House selects to introduce the President. The individual chosen sends a message and the administration selected Gabriel Maldonado. As a Gay Latinx man living with HIV, Gabe is the Founder and CEO of TruEvolution in Riverside California. His selection highlighted the important role that community will play in this effort. Gabe did us proud. He not only shared his personal story, he also brought along his mom. You could see his pride when he acknowledged her from the stage. Then came the President.
President Biden did not disappoint. His speech was strong powerful and clear. Here is the full text of what he said. Not only did he commit his administration to ending the HIV epidemic by 2030, he also called out racism as a public health challenge. He went off teleprompter to invite Gabe’s mother to the stage. This is a President who leads with empathy and bringing mom to the stage showed us his heart. He is a good man who is working under impossible conditions. His real gift was the bully pulpit of the White House. A key component to ending the epidemic is “political will.” With this event, he put the force of his administration behind this effort. It is now up to all of us.
As I mentioned earlier, the White House is like Disneyland on steroids. As we walked out of the East Room, the military band played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” We were then invited to have our photo taken in front of the two-story red ribbon. Here I am with Naseema Shafi (Whitman-Walker Health) and Kierra Johnson (National LGBTQ Task Force). As a parting gift, we received a copy of the President’s World AIDS Day Proclamation.
This was history and I wanted all of you to be there. I hope this piece expresses my excitement, not because I got to go, but because the White House is committed to ending the HIV epidemic. This event was an important signal from the people in power. They are committed to ending the epidemic by working with community. Now the real work begins, and it is going to take all of us!
Yours in the Struggle,