Since 1983, AIDS activists have demanded government attention to a deadly health problem that was ignored by President Ronald Reagan, who would not say the word “AIDS.” As gay men died by the thousands, our government had to be forced to address this problem.
In 1987, activism by gay men formed ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, who fearlessly put their bodies on the line to fight for essential medicines and treatment. From affordable drug pricing to HIV prevention and housing victories, all were generated by AIDS activism. In 2016, people had hope that we could see an end to new HIV infections. Some states were boasting they would end AIDS in the coming decade. We know that consistent access to HIV medications not only keeps people alive but prevents them from transmitting virus. We now have PreP — a one-pill-a-day prevention that prevents HIV contraction. We had hope we could end this epidemic by preventing new infections.
On Nov. 8, 2016, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. His campaign has no policy on HIV. Numerous mail, telephone and email attempts to meet with his campaign failed. His choice of cabinet appointments are those with records of racism and homophobia. Sen. Paul Ryan wants to privatize Medicaid and Medicare programs that provide care and medication to people living with HIV. Dr. Benjamin Carson, neurosurgeon, will be the head of Housing and Urban Development; that’s the federal agency that funds the HOPWA program, Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS. Carson has said homosexuality is like bestiality. In Philadelphia, we have wonderful affordable housing for LGBT seniors. Maybe not for long now with Carson holding the purse strings.
In 2016, HIV is still a disease that is primarily impacting men who have sex with men, communities of color, transgender communities and people who use injection narcotics. These are people that the conservative Christian-right Republicans have no compassion for. We anticipate a resurgence of HIV with this new administration. AIDS activism will be needed. Without medication, people will become sick and die in addition to becoming infectious.
ACT UP Philadelphia has begun fighting back; on World AIDS Day they went to Sen. Ryan’s office to demand no cuts to Medicare or Medicaid. They were arrested but sent a clear message: People with AIDS will fight back. History has taught us SILENCE=DEATH.
Jose de Marco is an organizer with ACT UP Philadelphia.