Moving Forward with HIV in America: Drawing Strength from Our Past and Empowering Today’s Leaders
I was invited by a PWN-USA sister and PACHA member to attend an Office of National AIDS Policy event to commemorate World AIDS Day, which is held annually on December 1. This event would be the final public event under the Obama Administration. It was youth-focused event seeking to channel the energy and wisdom that brought AIDS out of the shadows and to achieve the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy through 2020. The event featured multiple generations of HIV/AIDS advocates, spanning leaders from the beginning of the epidemic through the present day.
The programming started with a welcome from Amy Lansky, the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). She then passed it along to the person who put this event together, George Fistonich, the Policy Advisory for ONAP. He reminded some and educated others on looking back at the past eight years of change. He went through this very informative infographic blog by Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, called What We’ve Done to Address HIV/AIDS in America during the Obama Administration. I would definitely advise everyone to read this post and share it widely! Amy came back to briefly talk about the National HIV/AIDS Strategy 2016 Progress Report and the five things we should know, which are:
(1) Made national progress on nine key indicators.
(2) Established three new developmental indicators.
(3) Completed 76% and initiated 22% of 91 Federal actions planned for 2016.
(4) Implemented the Strategy in communities across the nation.
(5) Addressed challenges to meet our 2020 goals.
Learn more about the National HIV/AIDS Strategy at aids.gov/2020.
After the presentations, we had an emotional and interactive dialogue with four panelists and two moderators, White House staff members Raffi Freedman-Gurspan and George Fistonich. Panelists included Jeffrey S. Crowley (Program Director of the National HIV/AIDS Initiative at the O’Neill Institute), Dazon Dixon Diallo (Founder and President of SisterLove), Daniel Driffin (HIV/AIDS activist), and Kimi Farrington (2014 NMAC Youth Scholar).
The panel was structured around responding to clips from How to Survive a Plague, a film which follows the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts. The folks on the panel that were present during the ACT UP days reminded us what it was like then and the dramatic actions they took to be heard. During that time friends, lovers, and children were dying every day and no one was doing anything about it.
We also talked about how far we’ve come and one of the HIV advocates who has been doing this work for 20 plus years said she still felt hopeful that we can continue building and making strides towards change, even with the Trump presidency ahead of us. This person was not discouraged because she was very excited and proud of our up and coming young leaders who are doing and will continue to do phenomenal work in the many movements that change lives.
It was my first time watching clips from How to Survive a Plague and one day I will watch it in its entirety. It was emotional to watch those courageous people march around the National Mall holding the ashes of their loved ones and dumping them on the lawn of the White House as protest against the silence of the Reagan and Bush administrations.
One of the audience members spoke about the experience of living in the South where, as we know, a lot of southern states did not adopt the expansion of Medicaid, a huge resource for people living with HIV to receive the appropriate medical attention and make sure they’re insured so that their medications and doctors’ appointments are covered. This young gay black man said it’s a totally different story for him and his community who live in places in the South that are struggling with the lack of resources and opportunities. They’re not safe or supported to be able to speak up for themselves or others, which makes progress really slow.
He then challenged folks in the room to come where they’re at to witness what’s going on. He was right. I know the statistics and barriers in other states but I haven’t dealt with the same barriers living in Washington my whole life. Washington is one of the highest virally suppressed states in the nation and we’re one of few states that declared to reduce new HIV diagnoses by 50% by 2020 with our END AIDS in WA proclamation by Governor Inslee.
My big take away from the trip is that I want to work on doing more for other people in states that don’t benefit from the same resources and opportunities as I do. I see myself moving to the South, most likely to New Orleans, to start working towards this personal and professional goal of mine. I could risk losing a lot that makes my care very comfortable and my health being on top, but it’s the end game that’s more important. I want to help others because it was the help that I received that saved my life.
Check out this blog post in honor of World AIDS Day by Positive Women’s Network USA.
Written by: Tranisha Arzah, BABES Peer Advocate