The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource
Follow Us Follow Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter Download Our App 
Professionals >> Visit The Body PROThe Body en Espanol
  • Email Email
  • Comments Comments
  •  (2)
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary


Turning Anger Into Action: Clinton and Sanders Feel HIV Heat. Now Stand Up to Trump

March 15, 2016

JD Davids

JD Davids (Credit: Louie Ortiz-Fonseca)

Turn your anger into action.

It's been a slogan and a way of life for ACT UP for decades, and it remains so for many people living with HIV and those of us who love them and care about our communities. And in a matter of days it has come full-force into the U.S. presidential campaign.

The "tidal wave of trauma unleashed" by Hillary Clinton's now-renowned gaffe lauding Nancy Reagan as an HIV/AIDS advocate, as it was aptly characterized by contributor Jennifer Johnson Avril, triggered not only pain but also resistance, and demands not only for truth but justice. It spread quickly and furiously not only online, but in direct efforts both inside and outside of the campaigns to move the presidential candidates to commit to action on HIV.

And even as we make the most of this moment to push forward on HIV, our communities can and must stand up to the racist and xenophobic violence-inciting rhetoric of Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

Democratic Candidates Speak Out on HIV in New Poll

I wake up every morning in this killing machine called america and I'm carrying this rage like a blood filled egg.

-- AIDS activist and artist David Wojnarowicz, 1992

Our fury compelled Clinton to release a series of three increasingly better apologies, starting with a fire-fueling rapid tweet on "misspeaking" and culminating in an 850-word statement on Medium titled "On the fight against HIV and AIDS -- and on the people who really started the conversation."

Our passion propelled Sanders to add an HIV/AIDS page to the issues section of his campaign site.

And, today, our persistence ensured the release of a comprehensive 2016 Presidential HIV/AIDS Questionnaire. Although the Sanders campaign had submitted his answers before the HIV-gaffe spotlight, the Clinton campaign rushed to complete its long-awaited answers weeks after the due date had passed as a part of her amends. You can read Clinton's and Sanders' full answers here.

Here are some things I'm seeing:

  • Each candidate spoke like, well, themselves. Clinton's wording is often straight from the Office of National AIDS Policy playbook or focuses on what she's done in the State Department. Sanders answers a quick yes to the HIV community asks, but details his "innovation" plan to increase treatment access and a few other key areas.

    Sanders officially commits to doubling the number of people on HIV treatment globally by 2020 -- by increasing support for PEPFAR (the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) -- without details, so it's unclear if or how much he'd tackle the barriers he'd encounter in seeking to do so.

    Clinton talks at length about her record on global HIV, but neither makes a commitment to increase PEPFAR funding nor addresses the drop in PEPFAR funding that happened while she was Secretary of State.
  • Both candidates came out as opposed to HIV criminalization. This is a Big Deal and it's entirely because of the dogged work of people with HIV who insisted on bringing this issue into prominence over the past several years. (Want to take it further? Join the movement HIV is Not a Crime II in May.)

    (With this and other sections of the poll, you may note that there's a difference in the structure of the two candidates' questions and answers: Sanders' questions include a Yes or No at the end [to which he invariably answers Yes], and Clinton's don't. I've been told this was "due to submission in different digital formats.")
  • Each candidate said stuff the other didn't. Clinton talks about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and Sanders doesn't mention it. Sanders says that the Food and Drug Administration should implement a risk-based policy for all blood donors, and Clinton doesn't mention it.
  • No Republicans responded, as was the case with GMHC's earlier candidates' poll in a more crowded field. This campaign season has not been marked by reasonable debate and dialogue among the Republicans. But HIV should not be off the table. Let us not forget that PEPFAR was a signature program of George Bush's presidency, fought for and won not only by HIV activists and our traditional allies, but by many evangelical Christians and other conservatives.

Rage Against the Trump Machine

Treating Trump as a joke gives his noxious ideology room to grow. The climate he is creating has very real implications for the safety and lives of people of color, Muslims and immigrants.

-- M. Dove Kent, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) in The Guardian

On the same days on which many were speaking up about the true history of the epidemic and what we need to do to end it, thousands of people were standing up to standing up to Trump in the Midwest.

Many of the people protesting Trump are from communities of color facing high rates of HIV with few resources. Trump is literally selling a politics of stigma, in which scapegoats are used to rouse the ire of some of the many people who are suffering economically after decades of profit-based policies. The climate he is encouraging is dangerous to all marginalized or stigmatized communities, even though he's been savvy enough to not yet attack LGBT people in this era of history.

Shutting down a Trump rally may not be your cup of tea (or the way you make lemonade out of his lemons), but speaking out against the hateful rhetoric of Trump and those who seek to catch up with him should be a priority of HIV activists, even as we continue to push forward with the Democratic candidates who are willing (and now even more willing) to engage on our issues.

We can also bolster our resilience against hateful oversimplification by joining and supporting the groups and networks of people with HIV and their allies that fight for crosscutting social, racial and economic justice -- such as Positive Women's Network-USA, the Counter Narrative Project and the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance.

And we can bring our HIV-stigma-fighting selves to join coalition efforts in our local areas fighting for what Trump and others seek to take away, such as rights for immigrants, economic justice for poor and working people, gender justice or an end to mass imprisonment. All are vital areas deeply interwoven with what we need to do to tackle HIV.

So Now What?

It's more than just a disease, which ignorant people have turned into an excuse to exercise the bigotry they have always felt. It is more than a horror story, exploited by the tabloids. AIDS is really a test of us, as a people. When future generations ask what we did in this crisis, we're going to have to tell them that we were out here today.

-- AIDS activist and author Vito Russo, 1988

We can't be seduced by a moment of attention from some candidates when there's much more to do. Today, HIV community organizations and leaders sent a letter to the Clinton campaign (disclosure: I signed it as an individual), with similar letters being delivered to all the candidates. The letter asks for:

  • The appointment of an HIV advisor for her campaign.
  • A meeting with community leadership at her earliest convenience to discuss creating a viable plan to end the national epidemic.
  • An announcement in which she commits to ending AIDS as an epidemic in the United States by 2025.
  • A commitment to increasing funding to the global PEPFAR program by at least $2 billion per year by 2020.

We also need to push for the candidates to speak outside a narrow demographic (note that Clinton nests HIV under the LGBT section of her website, for example), not only to cement their promises, but also to use their significant reach to change the conversation about HIV.

A candidate talking plainly about the new basics of HIV that few know outside our HIV community bubble -- the virtual elimination of transmission risk if someone is undetectable on treatment or PrEP is taken daily, the incredible effectiveness of low-pill-burden drugs that were unimaginable years ago, the promise of a normal life span for many people with HIV, and the deeply damaging effects of stigma and discrimination that persists despite the facts -- will reach people we may never reach otherwise.

Turning Action Into Healing

It was just a few short months ago that many of us were once again confronted by the realities of bias and ignorance when the Charlie Sheen news hit. At that time, David Fawcett noted that, "HIV stigma is more harmful than HIV itself. When outbursts challenge those of us living with the virus, we must reclaim our strength and resilience, not only for ourselves but also for those still struggling under the weight of stigma."

We need to take care of each other and ourselves. Fawcett's "five ways to stay strong" in the face of the Sheen-related stigma are just as useful today in the election season. And you don't need to go it alone. Joining or supporting networks of people living with HIV, like the SERO Project, Campaign to End AIDS (C2EA) and the U.S. Caucus of People Living With HIV, is a powerful way to get an antidote to damaging stigma, plus you'll be a part of strategic efforts to fight for the policies and politics we need to thrive no matter who is in the White House.

JD Davids is the managing editor for and

Follow JD on Twitter: @JDAtTheBody.

Copyright © 2016 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

Related Stories

More on Election 2016

  • Email Email
  • Comments Comments
  •  (2)
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary

This article was provided by TheBody.


Add Your Comment:
(Please note: Your name and comment will be public, and may even show up in
Internet search results. Be careful when providing personal information! Before
adding your comment, please read's Comment Policy.)

Your Name:

Your Location:

(ex: San Francisco, CA)

Your Comment:

Characters remaining: