Tuesday, January 10th, 2017
Donald J. Trump and the Republican-controlled congress are a threat to everything HIV advocates have been fighting for during the last thirty years, and that includes access to healthcare, HIV prevention programs like PrEP, and the dignity with which we treat those who are most vulnerable to HIV infection.
This new political reality is reflected in the 2017 list of HIV Advocates to Watch from My Fabulous Disease. These inspiring advocates are speaking out, organizing and even conducting events only weeks after the election. They bring to mind the HIV treatment strategy of “hit hard and hit early.” They grow in number every day.
You can be a part of this. In fact, you must be. Follow these advocates on social media, join their groups, take note of every link in their profile, and follow their advice. All it takes is for people like you to take one step toward change.
If you know a person or organization that is leading the resistance in your community, share their names and links to their work in the comments section. The more options we can provide to get involved, the better.
Here are the HIV Advocates to Watch in 2017.
New York, NY
When shoppers visited Rockefeller Center one day during this holiday season, Tim Murphy helped make sure that ice skaters weren’t the only photogenic moment available. A group of silent Santas, all wearing anonymous black masks, held signs with messages like “Trump’s USA is Already Terrifying” and “Voted for Trump? Feel Lied to Yet?” while a trumpeter played a jaunty version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The tableau was effectively haunting.
A longtime HIV journalist for POZ Magazine (and now the bestselling author of the must-read novel Christodora), Murphy is using the full force of his newly minted celebrity to come out swinging against Trump, employing an array of tactics ranging from street activism to community organizing. Most recently, Murphy helped mobilize dozens of people to show up in front of the home of Senator Chuck Schumer to demand “total obstruction of the Trump agenda.”
“Medicaid expansion and Obamacare have offered healthcare to so many Americans with HIV/AIDS and now they’re in jeopardy,” said Murphy. “All social programs are.” He also worries about the future of pro-LGBT prevention messages that have been created under Obama, particularly those addressing gay black men.
Murphy has simple advice for anyone looking to get involved in their community. “Follow or sign up to get alerts from two big national groups, such as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, and two local groups, like your local #BlackLivesMatter or local immigration rights group,” he offers. “And then commit to acting on their action alerts, whether it’s making phone calls or showing up for big key demonstrations in your city. Massive protests send a broad message that Trump’s agenda will not be tolerated.”
It sounds like you just got your marching orders.
(Photo credit: Gabello)
Community activist Anne-Christine d-Adesky is a veteran of ACT UP NYC and the co-founder of the Lesbian Avengers. For more than thirty years she has fought for social justice issues as varied as immigration rights, women’s health, and anti-nuclear causes. That’s right. She’s a badass.
And she has now turned her attention to the man she calls Drumpf. “On the day after the election I launched my blog, Alice in Drumpfland,” says d’Adesky, “and I put out a call to activist colleagues to join me in a collective response.”
That response became with the formation of the Bay Area Queer Anti-Fascist Network (BAQAFN). “Some of us just call it ‘Queer as Fuck,’” d’Adesky says. “It is meant to unite the local LGBTQ community and defend others under attack, “including communities who are targets of an emboldened American racism that Drumpf has invited.”
d’Adesky also has serious concerns about the continued adoption of “religious waiver” policies and legislation that GOP legislators have advanced in Florida and Texas. “Dozens are being drafted at local levels now,” d’Adesky warns, “that would allow businesses or individuals with federal contracts to ‘opt out’ of providing services to LGBTQ individuals on the premise of religious opposition to homosexuality. That means private and religious institutions, including hospitals and hospices, may refuse to treat HIV-positive individuals they assume may be gay or trans, or lesbians who need maternity care or trans women who just need a checkup. This we must fight.”
This battle is nothing new, d’Adesky asserts. “We can look to the successes of the AIDS movement in the 90s for models to fight the moralist and far right. When our bodies were criminalized, we framed our fight in the context of human rights, which is where it sits. We also need to hold elected officials accountable. We need to push them to create new services if they are needed.”
d’Adesky is busy organizing town hall forums for BAQAFN, writing her blog, planning vigils against Islamophobia, and even preparing for the release of her fourth book, an activist memoir. But she never lets her struggles get the best of her.
“I refuse to let Drumpf or any of these small-hearted individuals dictate my daily happiness,” she says. So she dances, however and whenever possible. “It’s fun… and keeps you in protest shape.”
(Photo credit: Kawri Juno Photography)
JOSE de MARCO
“Being a person of color, I am forced to see the world through a racial lens,” says Jose de Marco, a community organizer for ACT UP Philadelphia who works with Prevention Point, the city’s only syringe exchange program. “HIV impacts black and brown people, very hard. I fear what the Trump administration will do. His cabinet appointments say it all.”
de Marco’s advocacy focuses on the intersections of race, poverty, homelessness, and drug addiction. These issues compound HIV infection rates among people of color and “mirror high incarceration rates as well,” he says.
“This administration could criminalize syringe exchange despite the fact it has dramatically lowered HIV infections in the United States,” de Marco warns, but changes to our national health programs could have an even more massive effect.
“Because of racism and greed to provide tax breaks to billionaires, the repeal or cuts to the Affordable Care Act could happen,” de Marco says, “but with enough pressure Congress can find ways not to choke off health care to the most vulnerable populations. People should pressure their Senators to vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and demand no privatizing of Medicare and Medicaid.”
“ACT UP will partner with other organizations fighting for health care and we will be using direct action, as we have for decades. We will not be turned back. Not one day.”
Find out more about the importance of needles exchange programs, and check out a new editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine from none other than President Obama that lays out the risks to health care if the ACA is repealed.
New York, NY
“I am a trans person with race and class privilege who lives in relative safety,” says JD Davids, the enormously influential managing editor of TheBody.com and an activist voice to be reckoned with. “I’m also acutely aware of the backlash against trans people in the form of bathroom bills and unmitigated violence.”
Davids is by no means off-topic by focusing on the civil rights of transgender people. He sees a direct link between prejudice toward vulnerable communities and HIV risk. “An already-seen increase in bullying and hate and targeting of women, LGBTQ people and people of color contributes to accumulated trauma that, among other things, increases HIV risk or challenges in staying healthy if you have HIV.”
“I speak early and often about HIV issues to ensure that everyone gets clear information on the new HIV basics: HIV treatment is incredibly effective and much simpler than before; an undetectable HIV viral load means uninfectious; there’s a pill a day that can block HIV transmission; and bias, stigma and underlying marginalization of queers, trans people, people of color and drug users are the biggest barriers to ending the epidemic.”
Having a presidential administration that is “packed with leaders who either ignored HIV or put acutely harmful policies in place” is not going to be pretty, Davids believes. And he’s doing something about it.
“My fellow HIV activist Jennifer Johnson Avril and I have launched #ActivistBasics,” Davids explains, “which is providing practical tools and information for figuring out what to do and how to do it.” Their Facebook page is a treasure trove of helpful advice, Twitter chats, videos, and links to other resources. It is the perfect first stop for anyone who wants to resist the policies of the new administration.
It might be easy to feel intimidated by the sheer activism output of someone like Davids, but he wants you to know that there are easy ways to get started.
“Pull together an affinity group,” he advises as a first step, “a group of two to eight people who you know and trust, and start right where you are, as far as taking action together and supporting each other. It’s going to be a long haul. Don’t go it alone.”
(Photo credit: Louie Ortiz-Fonseca)
“Trump openly campaigned on a message of hatred and intolerance,” says Naina Khanna, director of the ferocious advocacy group known as the Positive Women’s Network USA (PWN), “something people living with HIV know all too well. The progress we’ve achieved in expanding the civil and human rights to reflect the diversity of our nation will be stifled. What is at stake? Literally everything.”
Fortunately for us, PWN has emerged as a forceful leader involved in everything from repealing HIV criminalization laws to local organizing to national political strategy like the annual day of congressional lobbying known as AIDS Watch. Those skills will come in handy in the years ahead.
“PWN will have a strong contingent at the Women’s March in DC,” says Khanna, “with members who can’t make it to DC participating in simultaneous Women’s Marches in cities around the nation. Our members have committed to making phone calls, sending emails and writing letters to the editor to put a face to many of these issues. Women have a legacy of innovation and resistance in the face of fear. We will build on that.”
Khanna is helpful and extremely specific when it comes to tips on how you can make a difference. “Put your U.S. Senators and your Congressperson on speed dial on your phone,” she offers, “that way it will only take a minute to call and voice your concerns or wishes. Find their contact information at Who Is My Representative? It’s never a waste of time to call your elected representatives in Congress.”
“If you are a woman living with HIV, including women of trans experience, join PWN-USA. If you are already a member but have been sitting on the sidelines, get more involved! Don’t be afraid to venture outside the HIV silo, either. Get involved with your local Black Lives Matter chapter. If you are a white person wanting to support racial justice, find your local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). and get involved in our newly launching anti-racist curriculum.”
“There will be protests around the country the week of the inauguration,” Khanna adds. “We hope to see you there!”
ASHTON P. WOODS
In the summer of 2015, an incident at the progressive conference Netroots Nation galvanized activists across the country and arguably changed the focus of the presidential campaign. During a forum with candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, more than 100 Black Lives Matter protestors shut down the event and demanded the candidates address state violence against black Americans.
This blogger was there, and remembers the faces of attendees, who were surprised by the outburst and then confused and even intimidated by the chants and demands (perhaps they had never seen an ACT UP protest in the 80s). It was interesting and disheartening to me that, even among this liberal mix of people, Black Lives Matter was viewed as an uncomfortable irritant.
Ashton P. Woods was not only there at Netroots Nation, he helped to lead the protest. And he has absolutely no intention of softening the tactics that helped propel Black Lives Matter into the national consciousness. But there are differences, now that Trump has been elected.
“My work in racial justice just got a lot harder,” Woods says. The HIV positive activist knows how to meet a challenge, having co-founded the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter and even now, as he creates Strength in Numbers, a project “to educate and lobby those in power about HIV.”
Woods has some experience protesting on the streets of Houston, and he encourages you to get involved on a local level as well. “Find out what the activists in your state need,” he says, “and then use your voice to speak up and fight back.”
(Photo credit: Eric Edward Schell Photography)
New York, NY
In 2014, a devastating outbreak of 200 new HIV infections occurred in a small Indiana town among heroin users. It could have been easily avoided if the governor at the time had not dragged his feet on syringe access programs (SAPs). That governor, Mike Pence, is the new vice-president of the United States.
Anti-science positions like this are only the tip of the ignorance iceberg, says Jeremiah Johnson, a policy coordinator for Treatment Action Group that is one the most visible leaders of the Trump resistance in New York City.
“The pick for the director of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, is also a vocal opponent of LGBT equality,” says Johnson. “HIV thrives on hatred and oppression, particularly within LGBT communities and communities of color, so we can expect that a racist, transphobic, and homophobic administration will likely increase the spread of HIV in our most vulnerable communities.”
Johnson sprang into action soon after the election. Working with fellow activists James Krellenstein, Jamila Headley, Milo Ward, and Jason Walker, the group held a town hall meeting in Manhattan “in opposition of the many destructive policy positions and societal ills represented by Trump and his administration.” It now attracts hundreds of people every Tuesday night and has been named “Rise & Resist.”
“If you fear the oppressive, dangerous policies of the Trump administration as much as I do,” Johnson advises, “give yourself permission to rise and resist, to act up and fight back. Let go of whatever holds you back, your shame and apprehension, your denial or hopelessness. Get organized and move into action, move off of social media and build resistance in the real world.”
“I am heartened by the work we are accomplishing here,” he continues, “but we need allies all across our nation, particularly outside of liberal bastions like New York City, if we have any hope of fixing this mess.”
(Photo credit: Terri Wilder)
“I plan to fight Trump every step of the way,” says Pickett. “I will never, ever, ever normalize this racist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, anti-science, ignorant bully who lost the popular vote by close to three million and who colluded with Russia to help him get ‘elected.’”
“I will not sit on the sidelines and ‘give him a chance.’ There are no chances. We must mobilize and resist.”
Pickett points to the crucial importance of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as exhibit one. “Americans need the stability and security that quality, affordable health coverage provides to them and their families” he says. “No plan to repeal the ACA should strip away health coverage from the more than 22 million Americans who have accessed insurance because of this landmark legislation with an adequate plan to replace it.”
Pickett has one word of advice for anyone looking to jump into the fray. “Focus, focus, focus,” he advises. “There are so many outrages, so much to be angry about, so much to do. Trump and his minions would like nothing better than to see us running around all over the place, scrambled and uncoordinated. Don’t give them that advantage. So, choose an issue area and focus your energies there. I will focus on health care access and the ACA, as my organization will be doing.”
“Pick your issue and dig in deep. It will be easier said than done, but it is the only way.”
(Photo credit: Brian Solem)
Tags: advocacy, aids, criminalization, culture, gay, hiv, politics, PrEP, research, stigma
Posted in Gay Life, Living with HIV/AIDS, My Fabulous Disease, News, Prevention and Policy, Trump | No Comments »
Thursday, December 22nd, 2016
The video is dramatic and infuriating. A young Arab man is seen speaking frantically to the camera as he is being asked to leave a plane. In the video, he explains he was simply talking to his mother on his phone, and his use of Arabic upset other passengers so much he was taken off the flight.
The incident dovetails perfectly with what is enraging every responsible social activist in this country right now: the degradation of Arabs and every other racial, ethnic, and sexual minority one could name.
Except YouTube star Adam Saleh is a tainted messenger, known for creating viral pranks that include a list of videos on airplanes that have been presented as the real thing. He posted a video purportedly showing himself being smuggled on a flight inside a suitcase, until it was exposed as a fraud. Of greater concern was his video post showing him being racially profiled by a cop, that is, until it too was exposed as fraudulent and he amended his video description to say it was a “dramatic reenactment.”
There’s a word for eliciting bad behavior from others by manufacturing a false scenario: entrapment. And some of those who would oppose this strategy on the part of law enforcement, for instance, have no problem with Saleh’s contrived incident. It’s a curious disconnect.
But wait, the reaction of the passengers during Saleh’s interrupted flight plans was authentic, and that makes this all okay, or at least that’s the argument from well-meaning people who are clinging to Saleh’s documentation of onboard racism. But with racism being exposed organically – vicious outbursts have been filmed by bystanders everywhere from fast food joints to checkout lines — do we really need Saleh’s cynical set pieces? This isn’t social activism. It’s self-promotion to increase his fan base of YouTube followers. And I believe we now refer to this sport of thing as #FakeNews.
Whatever Saleh’s intention may have been, he has poisoned the well. Interestingly, Saleh doesn’t include in his video whatever precipitated his removal from the plane, and Delta’s own initial interviews of those onboard suggests Saleh was being disruptive prior to the events in the video. At least one passenger now disputes he was ever speaking Arabic on the phone at all. (UPDATE: Several more passengers have now come forward to dispute Saleh’s story.)
Something here just isn’t right. It could have an effect on the integrity of our social conscience, and it needs to be called out.
Saleh is the court jester of our Trump anxiety, gleefully racking up YouTube views under the cloak of our righteous offense. We can’t look past the troubling, apathetic faces of the Delta passengers long enough to see we have been played.
Meanwhile, the clicks to Saleh’s infuriating video aboard the Delta airlines flight keep right on climbing. Whatever your reaction to this latest viral outrage may be, one thing is clear. Adam Saleh’s exploitation of our deserved indignation has been really good for business. His, anyway.
If we accept this Theater of Indignation, then maybe I have been going about decades of exposing HIV stigma all wrong. Perhaps I should march down to WalMart and begin shouting “I AM HIV POSITIVE!” as loudly as possible. Once I get the attention of my fellow shoppers or, if I’m lucky, the wrath of some ignorant dupe, all I have to do is turn on the camera and document their disdain for me. If their reactions are “real,” then I am absolved of my tactics, right?
Besides, it could make me a YouTube star and make me famous as a humble, courageous victim exposing HIV stigma for all to see.
Nice work if you can get it.
Tuesday, November 15th, 2016
I am on my feet at the Thanksgiving table, and my fists are slamming into the linen napkins. Silverware is quaking, pottery is rattling. The force of a particularly hard blow to the tabletop sends a dinner roll catapulting from the bread basket.
My screams are borrowed from post-election protest marches. They are deafening and unending. Fight him. Reject hate. Protect ourselves.
Surrounding the table are members of my family, some red and some blue. They pay me no attention. They are chatting among themselves, unaware of my thunderous cries. Forks and spoons and now falling to the floor and cartwheeling away. A bowl of green bean casserole has rumbled to the edge of the table and any second now it will
I wake up. It is morning in America.
While eating my breakfast cereal I luxuriate in thoughts of assassination. Oh my God that’s awful, my husband tells me, don’t even think such a thing. So I search for it online. I enter the letters “T-r-u-m-p A-s-s” and my browser helpfully fills in the rest. Nobody told my laptop it can’t think that way. My dreadful topic is the first suggestion Google offers.
Hello, NSA. You must be very busy. I’m just a depressed liberal. Move along, nothing to see here.
HIV activists have fought presidents before. We protested while carrying urns filled with ashes. We had motivation and grief and outrage. We believed we could change the world and we did. We actually did.
I was a young man then. I have been glancing at those years in the rearview mirror ever since. I write about them often. It hadn’t occurred to me that we could face that level of ignorance and danger again in my lifetime. And trust me on this, the policies and positions of our new administration, on everything from LGBT rights to HIV education, will have a direct impact on the number of urns to be filled in years to come.
The past may be prologue, but that analogy doesn’t satisfy me. Our past is a monster we had beaten down. But then it faded behind us, beyond reach, and somewhere back there it grew strong and fearsome and has now leapt over us to become our immediate future.
My horror imagery comes from my dreams. I work hard not to think of these things, at least during my waking hours. I’ve turned away from television news, angrily, like a lover who bitterly betrayed me. But at night it can’t be helped.
Our new president is smirking at his inauguration. He is waving to all of those he has so cynically duped, and surrounding him are white men sneering so broadly they look reptilian. Our outgoing president and his wife are enduring the event bravely, but their very presence among this grotesquerie is so out of time their image might as well be a weathered tintype.
I wake up. It is another morning in America, and I struggle to decide whether or not to surrender myself to sleep again. I honestly cannot decipher the better of the two.
Tags: A Place Like This, advocacy, Aging, aids, culture, family, gay, hiv, politics, Recreation, Sexuality, stigma
Posted in Family and Friends, Gay Life, Living with HIV/AIDS, My Fabulous Disease, News, Prevention and Policy, Trump | 5 Comments »