As a black queer man living with HIV, I am nervous about the politically unstable, violently regressive times in which we live.
In less than one year in office, President Donald Trump has seemingly put the brakes on 30-plus years of HIV work; in truth, the devastating impact of his reckless decisions has only just begun to ripple across the surface. That is, perhaps, what scares me most—the depth of the damage yet unknown.
It has only been seven days since Trump decided that it was in the nation’s best interest to disband the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, the final dagger in a whirlwind dismantling of HIV programs and attempts at cutting funding.
By March of last year, it became evident that this administration would be targeting AIDS and HIV—a virus that most severely impacts black and brown people—as it suggested foreign and domestic budget cuts totaling $350 million. Unfortunately, that staggering number would only represent one-third of the actual budget cut requested in May of nearly $1.2 billion from HIV research, prevention programs, housing for people living with HIV and AIDS, Ryan White Training Centers and PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).
Adding to the urgency, a drastic reduction in funds could halt the work of many community-based organizations located in areas of the Deep South and among black populations where HIV continues to exist at epidemic levels.
By June, in a scathing letter to Trump, six members of PACHA resigned, stating that the Trump administration “has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
Scott Schoettes, counsel and HIV Project director at Lambda Legal, stated, “The decision to resign from government service is not one that any of us take lightly, however, we cannot ignore the many signs that the Trump administration does not take the ongoing epidemic or the needs of people living with HIV seriously.”
Finally, during the Christmas holiday break while on a golfing trip, the White House FedExed letters to PACHA members, effectively ending their tenure.
These are the critical times we find ourselves in.
HIV is not a partisan issue—rather, it shouldn’t be. HIV is a human rights issue, a social justice issue, and one that has had a traumatic impact on vulnerable and marginalized communities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that 50 percent of black men who have sex with men would contract HIV over their lifetime. Black women are still the most infected group of all demographics in the country. This is still a crisis.
In an open letter to the community on his website, Gabriel Maldonado—CEO of TruEvolution, a California-based organization committed to addressing the social determinants of health disproportionately affecting LGBTQ youths, and a former PACHA member—wrote:
We will get through every attack, as we always have done—putting one foot in front of the other, walking hand in hand in community as a mobilized unit refusing to accept this bigotry and erasure as “the new normal.” We have come too far and lost too many to give up now. We know that we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams and we will fight to the end to protect it.
I remember the day I found out I was HIV-positive. I remember the fear that engulfed me in a room with just a nurse and a counselor. I sat there crying because I didn’t have the resources, knowledge or education to know that I could live with the virus.
I could not stop envisioning my death.
Now, seven years later, I am on treatment and have tested and helped countless others as an HIV activist to realize that they, too, can exist—and thrive—with a quality of life many of our ancestors only dared to dream. We are and always have been a resilient people, and giving up isn’t in our blood.
As Maldonado said so eloquently on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, “My HIV doesn’t have a time limit.” And neither does my determination.
I am part of the community mobilization needed for this fight against this blatant health care discrimination that continues to hurt black and brown people, generations over. Still, I am afraid. I am terrified that, if this administration continues down this discriminatory and institutionally violent path, the work and the lives lost over the past 30 years will have been in vain.
We have been here before—different president, same trauma. We watched the Reagan administration mishandle the unknown virus at the time, triggering one of the deadliest epidemics the world has ever seen. An epidemic that has never left marginalized communities, only becoming a “chronic” condition when it lost its “white face.”
We can’t be silent in the face of hatred and oppression. We as a community will need to come together and support the countless organizations doing HIV and AIDS work on a grassroots level. We must continue funding those who are in the streets ensuring that this brutal epidemic ends—and, until then, no longer disproportionately affects our communities.
Despite the fear of the unknown, I know that we have lost too many to this virus, and that we cannot let hate, bigotry and homophobia take us down a path with the potential of restarting one of the deadliest epidemics this world has ever seen.