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Obama's Ugly AIDS Truth

Housing Works CEO Charles King's Speech on Obama's AIDS Policies Rouses Conference Attendees

July 1, 2009

King speaks about holding Obama accountable at Philadelphia Fight Conference
King speaks about holding Obama accountable at Philadelphia Fight Conference

Housing Works President and CEO Charles King provoked the crowd in a speech at the Philadelphia Fight conference last week when he called out President Barack Obama for his failure to lead the fight against HIV/AIDS or advance the cause of other progressive issues.

"I like Obama. I really do. I'm just here to tell you when it comes to AIDS or any other progressive cause you might care about, Barack Obama is not the change you all have been looking for," King said in the speech to a crowd of 650 advocates, people living with AIDS and community members.

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His remarks were met with both a standing ovation from half of the audience (and props from the conference organizers) but also scattered hisses and boos. A few people left mid-speech.

"I was aware during the speech that I was making some people uncomfortable, but they were pretty much drowned out by the applause and ovation at the end," King said.

"I thought Charles' speech was great and that he told the truth about Obama's lack of response to the AIDS epidemic, and a lot of issues the Obama administration has ignored," said Jose de Marco, a member of ACT UP Philadelphia who attended the conference. de Marco said that the audience was divided in its response to the speech. "A lot of audience members were people of color and they didn't like hearing the truth and hearing it from a white person," de Marco said. "Some people felt like, 'He's saying our Black president is screwing up on AIDS.' "

Rev. Dr. Ernest McNear, Pastor True Gospel Tabernacle Church of God in Christ, disagreed with that criticism and said "I never looked at it as a white guy talking about Barack Obama. I looked at the director of an AIDS group making the case for the needs for the AIDS community now. The urgency was there. He certainly did challenge this administration, but also was able to speak positively of the administration in spite of the criticisms."

McNear said he requested a copy of the speech and will be adapting it to use in his work.

Obama's Disappointments

In the speech, King decried the Obama administration's lack of progress on creating a National AIDS Strategy; lifting the HIV travel ban; lifting the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange; and for cutting funding for global AIDS and housing.

At a meeting with National Director of AIDS Policy Jeff Crowley and other members of the administration last month, when AIDS activists questioned why Obama couldn't issue an executive order lifting the HIV travel ban they were told "This Administration stands for two things. Change, of course, and the rule of law. We don't circumvent regulations when we don't like them. We follow the proper procedures to change them."

In his speech, King said, "Of course, if they don't like the CEO of General Motors, they don't need any regulatory authority to fire him. They just shove him out the door as a condition for the bailout. Meanwhile, real people are suffering because of a rule that everyone now agrees is stigmatizing and counter to good public health policy."

King also criticized the Obama administration for its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," its treatment of political prisoners and the Obama administration's hypocrisy surrounding choosing what issues to fast track.

"Not only is Obama not proving progressive on AIDS, but in some regards we are moving backwards in this Administration," King said, saying at one point "150 days into this administration, it is amply clear that Obama is in fact governing as a moderately conservative Democrat, much in the strain of his predecessor, Bill Clinton."

Read King's full speech.



  
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This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 
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Advocates Urge Obama to Address HIV in the U.S.
President Obama and HIV/AIDS
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