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Opinion

Waking Up in a Country Where the President-Elect Has No HIV Strategy

November 9, 2016

George M. Johnson

George M. Johnson (Credit: Tyson Evans)

On Nov. 9, the U.S. awoke to the news that reality TV star Donald Trump was the new president-elect and would take over the White House after Barack Obama. I was shocked. Not only did his rise to the presidency defy most logic, it defied virtually every poll that had been done over the last six months.

As I woke up to these results, I looked in the mirror and I spoke to the universe: "I accept this outcome. Keep me covered as I do this work." The work: Figure out how I, as an HIV-positive minority, can survive in a United States of phobias and -isms now known as Trumpland.

As a person living with HIV and a worker and activist in the field, this election not only has implications for my livelihood, but for the work that I and many others do. Initially, I wanted to give Trump the benefit of the doubt that everything would be OK. Then, I did some research.

A few months ago I wrote an article titled "7 Reasons Hillary's HIV Platform Is Important." Her plan was very well laid out, structured and detailed, and it resonated with all the work I do. It gave me hope for the future of the fight against HIV and how we could continue to do that work on a much larger scale. But when I Googled "Donald Trump's HIV strategy," I realized that I live in a country where the president-elect has no HIV strategy.

I found only one search result where Trump ever stated the term "HIV" -- and it was in regards to the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, not domestic policy. This is troubling for me. As we have watched Trump on the campaign trail talk about his economic policy, foreign policy, domestic policy and immigration policy, he has not once talked about this issue.

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After the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced a new estimate that the lifetime risk of black men who have sex with men acquiring HIV is one in two, I realized how important it would be to have a succinct HIV strategy for the nation moving forward. I can't imagine Donald Trump, a man who has been accused and sued by the federal government for his racist and xenophobic practices, having the capacity to sit with me at the table and discuss the needs of my community.

Then I remembered that his running mate also has serious problems, and I went into full-blown, all-hands-on-deck mode.

Mike Pence has had a history of being against the LGBTQ community during his tenure as a candidate and a political official. The most heinous was his suggestion to use Ryan White CARE Act money to do "conversion therapy" for those seeking to "change their sexual behavior." In other words, this money should be taken from community-based HIV organizations and AIDS service organizations that support LGBTQ people and given to groups who try to remove one's homosexuality.

Gutting the Ryan White Care Act in this way would destroy hundreds of thousands of lives. My fear is that Trump, having no plan of action himself, will license Mike Pence to structure a strategy that severely hurts the most marginalized populations and puts a stranglehold on the work that many of us are doing.

This election is finally over, but now the real work must begin. HIV is a virus that intersects with many lives and demographics; removing funding from the fight based on religious views and biases is dangerous. Not having a strategy to fight HIV will potentially damage the 30-plus years of work that has been done fighting the epidemic.

My ask of the incoming administration is to not let belief "Trump" science when making decisions that will affect minority populations disproportionately, to not be blinded by judgment into making a decision on the future of HIV funding that could set back what has taken over 30 years to get under control. This is about how people will survive and how we can truly fight to see a world without HIV regardless of gender, sex or racial identity.

I refuse to live in fear, and my hope is that you refuse to live in fear, also. For the HIV community, we took a serious blow last night -- but we are not out of it yet. The time is now to mobilize and make our demands to this new administration to ensure that our rights and freedoms are not trampled at the expense of our health.

So, Trump and Pence: You better get it right, because the HIV community knows how to ACT UP.

George M. Johnson is a writer based in the Washington, D.C., area. He has written for Huffpost, Ebony.com, Pride.com and Diverseeducation.com, and has a monthly column in A&U magazine. He is a loyal member of the Beyhive and you can follow him on Twitter @iamgmjohnson.


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

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