It's rare that members of the HIV community and its activists have an opportunity, or a reason for that matter, to pause from their work in the ongoing struggle just to say thank you to their legislatures for progress made and a job well done. With so many cuts in both state and federal budgets in HIV/AIDS-related services, and a constant rise in new infections across the board, we realize that even though this virus has devastated our community for over 20 years now, the reality of the matter is that we must continue to fight, or die.

In Illinois, however, on March 31st, 2004, members of the HIV community, led by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), gathered at the state capitol of Springfield to show support and to say "thank you" to Governor Rob Blagojevich for his proposed budget for fiscal year 2005. This new budget includes a $1 million increase for HIV prevention services in communities of color and a $3.1 million increase for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). In a time when ADAPs across the country desperately lack critical funding, and most states are seeing drastic cuts being made to their budgets for HIV/AIDS services, Illinois is one of few that recognizes and appears ready to act on the need for increases in funding.

At the same time, however, the struggle in Illinois continues. While at the state's capitol, lobbyists also spoke with state senators and representatives concerning other important bills that are critical to the lives of the 35,000 Illinoisans living with HIV/AIDS. These bills include HB 4439, which will protect low-income renters with public assistance from housing discrimination; HB 4622, which will standardize the definition of "disability" among all state agencies so that disabled people living with HIV/AIDS can gain access to important public benefits including Medicaid; HB 6563, which will help to ensure that children of terminally ill parents will be raised by the guardians of their choice; and HB 3857, which will allow HIV-positive individuals to become organ donors, increasing access to life-saving organ transplants for people living with HIV/AIDS. The fate of these bills are yet to be determined, however, the presence of hundreds of people with HIV at the state capitol is bound to leave a lasting impression upon the hearts and minds of legislators as they make their voting decisions.

Having been born and raised in Illinois, I was one of those who lobbied at the state capitol, grateful to be a resident and for my life. For a brief while, a couple of years back, I was a resident of the state of North Carolina. It was in that state that I received an AIDS diagnosis and became extremely ill with no health insurance. I was taken to a local emergency room with chronic diarrhea and severe wasting, only to be turned away and given a phone number to call so that I could make an appointment at a free clinic that provided treatment for residents of the city of Charlotte without health insurance.

I was instructed to call this number between 8 and 9 a.m. only, Monday through Friday, and pray that I would reach someone. With only one phone number for everyone in the city without health insurance to call at the same time of day, you can imagine that a busy signal was all that I received. If I did happen to get through, there were only a certain number of appointments available to be given out on any given day, and if those were already taken then I had to try all over again the next day. When I was finally able to get an appointment (which took almost two weeks using this system), it was not scheduled for another 3-1/2 weeks.

While waiting for the appointment, I was instructed to apply for the ADAP program, which at that time was bankrupt, so that once I received health care I would at least be already on the waiting list to receive the medications that would be prescribed. Needless to say, due to the seriousness of my health situation, I could not wait through all of this. I was forced to move back to my hometown, Chicago, and was able to receive the care that I needed immediately, minus the phone calls and the waiting lists. It is believed by many, my physicians included, that had I stayed in Charlotte, North Carolina much longer, I probably would not have lived to share this horrifying experience.

North Carolina is not the only state that operates in this manner. Several states within the U.S. do not provide adequate, timely health care to those in need who, for whatever reason, are without health insurance. The power for change, however, lies in the voice of the constituents of those states and in the votes that they cast. Lawmakers are selected by the people. Just as the HIV community in Illinois has lobbied for years so that all can have equal access to health care, residents of those states must unite and do the same. The lives of millions who are infected with HIV and other health care issues desperately depend on it.

Keith R. Green (27), Distribution Coordinator at Test Positive Aware Network, is a young poet, student, activist and lover who is dedicated to making a difference in his world. A sharp thinker with a positive attitude, Keith willingly shares his knowledge and talent with all.

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