October 17, 2012
Last night, four buses carrying activists from Housing Works, Occupy Wall Street, ACT-UP, and Queerocracy descended on Hofstra University to protest the criminalization of HIV as the second Presidential debate got underway.
The activists were joined by members of the Occupy Wall Street Long Island contingent, and nearly two-hundred strong, took to Hofstra's campus to highlight current discriminatory practices that criminalize people based on their HIV status and draw the Presidential candidates' attention to the issue.
A dozen or so activists donned orange prison jumpsuits and carried signs that read "HIV is not a crime, criminalizing it is," and called on President Obama and other political leaders to support Congressional Bill H.R. 3053, called the "REPEAL Act," which would eliminate discrimination based on HIV status and HIV testing results. The bill was introduced last year by Congressional Representative Barbara Lee but has yet to gain any traction.
The protestors collected in what was dubbed the "Freedom Cage," located at Uniondale Avenue and the Hempstead Turnspike, where a number of other groups were protesting other political issues such as drone strikes, the war on women, Zionism, and the always present "Jesus Saves" troupe. (To see photos of the collection of people at the Freedom Cage, visit our Facebook page). Despite the disparate interests, however, it was the activists dressed as prisoners that stole the show, with people stopping to join the catchy chants -- "HIV is not a crime: act-up, fight back, decriminalize!" -- and to learn more about how people living with HIV/AIDS are treated as criminals rather than people living with a chronic illness.
As Andy Velez of ACT-UP New York stated, "HIV is a virus. It is not evidence of a crime. Until we stop dealing with it as a crime and address it as a health issue people are going to be afraid to get tested or treated. But treatment is what gets viral loads to an undetectable level and what reduces the likelihood of transmission by 96%."
While the protest certainly caught the attention of the Hofstra University and Hempstead communities, it remains to be seen if it will rupture the trend of silence that has permeated the Presidential political season thus far. Aside from a brief reference from former President Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, neither President Obama or hopeful Romney have addressed HIV/AIDS issues thus far during the race, let alone its criminalization or stigma.
Despite their reticence, however, we will continue to fight for the respect and rights of all people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic conditions that continue to be marginalized in today's political climate.
When people with AIDS are under attack, what do we do? Act up, fight back!
Visit our Facebook page to view photos of yesterday's action.