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News

Listen to Powerful Messages to Incoming U.S. President Trump From the HIV Community

January 19, 2017

"Dear Donald Trump: My community will do the best that we can to assist you in helping us."

It's a compelling, earnest and vulnerable offer, one that calls to mind an image of a hand outstretched to shake another. It's one of many messages sharing the hopes, fears, concerns and promises of nearly a dozen diverse community members in a brief video recently released by Harlem United -- "Dear Donald Trump: Are You Listening?"

In the two months between Trump's election and tomorrow's inauguration, the HIV community has witnessed numerous indications that a Trump administration and GOP-controlled Congress will operationalize the dangerous rhetoric of his campaign -- including potentially massive cuts to life-saving health care. In response to this onslaught, speakers in the video address the camera as if it were the President-elect himself. Along with their dispatches to Trump, speakers share aspects of their identities that place them squarely within communities that Trump has scorned, ignored or threatened to abandon: women, both cisgender and transgender; gay and bisexual black men; people living with disabilities and chronic health concerns, including HIV; Medicaid recipients; and a young man who has experienced homelessness.



The speakers model the kinds of messages that others can send to Donald Trump using a form provided on the campaign's website. Harlem United staff will compile messages shared by the community and deliver them to the President-elect.


"I Want You to Know That I'm Concerned About Our Country"

You'll recognize Cornelius Lowe in the video from the gray coat and tie he wears and for speaking the words above. Lowe, a client of Harlem United, is part of the organization's Peer Empowerment Leader program: He and several colleagues train and involve fellow clients in advocacy from the state capital to Capitol Hill, ensuring that those most impacted by policies are leaders in policy change.

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"I believe that our democracy is in danger," Lowe said to me in a recent phone conversation. As a U.S. citizen and a person living with HIV, he felt it was his responsibility to speak out -- especially in the press, another institution Trump appears to want to weaken. Lowe cites threats to the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid as a key reason why HIV community members and "anybody who has any concerns with regards to where America is going should advocate, protest, write Congress, do whatever they need to do to make sure that our voices are heard."

Jason Cianciotto, Harlem United's vice president of policy, advocacy and communications, has been monitoring comments on social media promotions for the video and has seen some scathing ones, including one poster imploring video participants to "stop looking for a free ride."

"Trump is moving our society to a space where the Golden Rule -- caring for ourselves, caring for our communities, as we want to be cared for, is being tossed away," Cianciotto said on the phone, "and all people in need are being viewed as just leaching off society."

"It's one of the most dangerous outcomes of Trump's election."


"I Hope That You Will Listen to Us"

The messages in the video are nearly all delivered as I-statements -- a speaking tool meant to foster positive, nonviolent communication and shift the direction of a conversation from laying blame on the listener to naming feelings and concerns held by the speaker. One of the aims of an I-statement is to make clear to the listener that the speaker's words are not an attack, but a gesture encouraging engagement. Trump has on a number of occasions taken invitations to consider varying points of view as attacks for which he must retaliate on behalf of himself or one of his comrades. But activists are already working to ensure that he and his administration heed the concerns of community members once he takes office. Harlem United's video and messaging tool are part of this effort.

"At a time when the nation is concerned about internal threats to human rights like access to comprehensive, affordable health care, housing, and the safety of stigmatized communities," said Jacquelyn Kilmer, CEO of Harlem United, in a news release, "I am so proud of and grateful for the clients and staff who shared their hopes, fears, and concerns directly with President-elect Trump."

The more concerned community members raise their voices, the harder it will become for the U.S. President-elect to pretend not to hear.

Olivia Ford is a contributing editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.


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