October 8, 2012
We reported the National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NGMHAAD) prayer breakfast in the September 24 issue of Positive Voice. It was a powerful service with two take-homes. First, HIV in America is a social justice issue, and therefore inescapably a religious issue. If we do nothing, we are without excuse. Second, God must love LGBT people, he made so many of us. As Paul wrote (Romans 8.31), If God be for us, who can be against us?
We couldn't report on the September 27 national press conference and September 28 conference and evening celebration because they hadn't happened yet. Now they have, and each of the two days had its own lessons.
It was hot. Summer was back with a vengeance -- close, sticky, ninety-degree weather of our nation's capitol in July -- and they were brave men and women who walked up to the outdoor microphone in suits.
District of Columbia Vince Gray; former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly; Department of Health Interim Director Dr. Saul Levin; and Director of the Department's HIV programs, Dr. Greg Pappas, all spoke about the need for constructive, focused, well conceived action by municipal, state, and federal government action to control and finally end America's HIV epidemic. More is required than government action, but the epidemic will not end without it, and Washington, D.C.'s response to the epidemic-some of the best disease surveillance in the country, aggressively promoted testing in all populations including traditionally excluded populations like LGBT people, generously funded treatment on demand for all who are infected, immediate linkage to care and support for staying in care, and aggressive follow up and recapture of people who have fallen out of care- -- should be a model for other cities and states. As President Obama says, just because government can't do everything, that doesn't mean government shouldn't do anything. Government matters.
Ron Johnson, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at AIDS United, and Brian Hujdich, Executive Director of HealthHIV, provided an organizational advocacy perspective on the state of HIV/AIDS and opportunities for collaboration with NAPWA and other partners. Not for-profit, industry, and government collaboration matters.
NAPWA President Frank Oldham, Jr., NAPWA Trustee Bruce Hoffmeister, Esq., National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition's Venton Jones, David Mariner, DC Center for the LGBT Community Executive Director David mariner, and the Reverend Darlene Nipper, Deputy Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, all called on LGBT people to be proud of who they are and demand action -- and not for their own sakes only. LGBT equality is an important structural intervention for ending IADS in America, and all Americans deserve that. So pride promotes justice. Justice matters -- and it is justice for all, or it isn't justice at all.
By five o'clock, shade and a cool drink mattered! We owe special thanks to Paul DeMiglio, Frank's Special Assistant and Deputy Editor of Positive Voice, for organizing speakers and press, managing the event, and making sure it got the national press attention is deserved.
Frank Oldham, Jr. and Brian Hujdich opened the conference, thanking all who had taken the day to present or to attend, and saying, Let's get to work.
A government panel addressed HIV issues that are important specifically to LGBT people. The Office of HIV/AIDS Policy's Dr. Timothy Harrison offered eye-watering data about the disproportionate impact of the HIV epidemic on gay men, perhaps four percent of the country's male population, but accounting for around 60% of all Americans living with HIV and 60% of each year's new infections. Megan Schuller, Esq., a trial attorney in the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, provided an overview of the rights of HIV-positive people, discussed ways in which they are too often violated, and told the conference how the Civil Rights Division responds to violations and how people whose rights have been violated can contact the Division.
Later in the conference, San Francisco AIDS Foundation's Ernest Hopkins moderated a policy panel. The Human Rights Campaign's Brian Moulton told us how HRC plans to campaign against laws that discourage testing by making sex criminal if you know you have HIV, but not if you have it but don't know yet. David McKean of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network told us how health care prospects for LGBT service members have improved since the end of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," but how the military's needlessly barring HIV-positive people from many active service roles still deters many from getting tested and talking frankly with their military doctors. Frank presented the kaiser Family Foundation's Jennifer Kates with a Positive Leadership Award, NAPWA's highest honor, for years of cutting-edge policy work that has saved lives by clarifying the issues.
Doctors Theo Hodge and Gary Blick fielded practical questions from conference attendees and then talked about new treatments coming. Stribild has been approved for one-pill-a-day combination antiviral therapy, there are advances in understanding how to deal with HIV infection as a chronic inflammatory condition, and functional cures aren't close yet but may be on the way. Frank presented Theo and Gary, and Dr. Bruce Rashbaum, who had planned to join them but had other obligations, with Positive Leadership Awards for their years of dedication providing state of the art care to gay men living with HIV -- important work, and not as well paid as it should be.
Whitman-Walker Health's Justin Goforth moderated a closing session on "The 'Hard Truths' on Gay Men, Sex and Stigma," with Frank Oldham, Jr., blogger and advice columnist Justin Terry-Smith, the DC Center for the LGBT Community's Brant Miller, and NMAC's Julio Fonseca. It was a free-wheeling conversation, with Brant appearing to be doing his best to make Justin crack up, and NAPWA's Rodney McCoy asking hard questions from the floor, like, Why do we call natural, unprotected sex "barebacking" and talk about it as if it's a bad thing? Do we need to use condoms? Yes-until we are in a committed, exclusive relationship with someone whose HIV status is the same as ours. Or, as Rodney said, until we're married.
What were the conference take-away's? That government policy matters. Sane sex laws and military service eligibility rules matter. Marriage equality and knowing our rights matter. Knowing as much as we can about HIV medicine and treatment matters. Pride and frank talk about sexuality matter.
And all of those are things gay men and the whole LGBT community can do something about.
Special thanks to NAPWA's Steve Bailous, who organized the conference; Paul DeMiglio and Leslie Sluger, for their hard work and persistence in confirming speakers; and to the Kaiser Family Foundation, for making their beautiful downtown-D.C. Barbara Jordan Conference Center available.
And after the conference -- what else -- we celebrated at one of D.C.'s most popular gay clubs, Number Nine. And then we took a deep breath and ran for the airport to get to the United States Conference on AIDS in Las Vegas. It's been a busy two weeks!