Washington Blade - August 31, 2007
Campaigns for marriage equality have stolen too much attention
from the nation's AIDS epidemic, according to some gay activists.
H. Alexander Robinson, executive director of the National Black
Justice Coalition, said in a column posted last week on the
Bilerico Project web site that presidential candidates have spent
more time discussing same-sex marriage than AIDS.
"While marriage is clearly a major civil rights priority for our
community and I dare say the nation," he said, "it is hardly the
only issue and should not in my view define our movement."
Phill Wilson, chief executive officer at the Black AIDS Institute
in Los Angeles, agreed.
Wilson, a 51-year-old gay man who's lived with HIV for 26 years,
said many gay Americans have overlooked the fight against
HIV/AIDS as they work toward marriage equality.
"I don't think that AIDS is even on the radar in a meaningful way
today, at least among LGBT institutions," he said. "I think to
the degree that it's being addressed at all, it's being addressed
as lip service."
But Allison Herwitt, legislative director at the Human Rights
Campaign, said the epidemic is a top priority for the nation's
largest gay advocacy organization.
"When you look at our top-tier lobby issues, HIV/AIDS is one of
those," she said. "It's very, very key and important work for us
here at HRC."
Brad Luna, the organization's media relations director, said HRC
has long worked with other groups to garner more funding and
attention to fight the epidemic.
He said those Capitol Hill pleas are not always heard, though,
and that "we feel the frustration" when lawmakers fail to
adequately address "a disease that needs much more of our
attention and resources dedicated to its end."
Luna said HRC nonetheless pushes politicians on the issue,
notably through congressional scorecards and presidential
HRC included three questions regarding HIV/AIDS in its last
questionnaire, including queries about the Ryan White CARE Act
and the proposed Early Treatment for HIV Act.
All eight Democratic candidates who responded to the HRC
questionnaire support the programs, along with increased funding
for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and research.
But Robinson, who did not respond this week to an interview
request, said in his column that AIDS received "relatively
superficial" attention during an Aug. 9 candidate forum.
He said the forum, which focused on gay issues and aired on the
Logo network, drew no comments from the candidates "in the way of
ideas about how to invigorate our nation's response to AIDS or
any expressions of a commitment to end AIDS or find a vaccine."
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio was the only candidate to robustly
discuss treatment issues. He said people living with HIV/AIDS
would benefit from his proposed "not-for-profit health care
system" that covers long-term care.
"So under the plan that I have," he said, "if someone has AIDS,
they're totally covered."
But Kucinich, like other candidates, did not discuss during the
forum any comprehensive plan to fight the epidemic.
Wilson chided the candidates for that omission - and gay
Americans for not demanding more.
"Four years ago, you had to address HIV and AIDS, and eight years
ago, if you were a Democrat, you couldn't even announce [a
presidential campaign] without having some kind of AIDS plan," he
said. "What's happened is if we're not putting pressure on these
candidates, why should they, you know?"
Wilson said the candidates must formulate a larger plan to combat
"At the end of the day, we have to be calling for a national plan
to fight AIDS," he said. "It has to include a mechanism to
mobilize people of color and put HIV and AIDS front and center in
those communities. We need to revitalize our prevention efforts
and retool our treatment efforts."
And if the call for that plan steals the spotlight from marriage
equality, Wilson said, so be it.
"I think the bottom line is - in addition to the fact that AIDS
still impacts us and, quite frankly, working to end the AIDS
epidemic is the right thing to do - it's in our interest to stay
focused on HIV and AIDS."