Turning Anger Into Action: Clinton and Sanders Feel HIV Heat. Now Stand Up to Trump
March 15, 2016
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 TheBody.com 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
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:
Rage Against the Trump Machine
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?
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:
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 TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow JD on Twitter: @JDAtTheBody.
AIDS Advocates From Across the U.S. Call Upon Presidential Candidates to Make Ending the Epidemic a Priority
This article was provided by TheBody.com.
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