The last Monday and Tuesday in March were special. Your friends at TheBody.com joined more than 650 people with HIV/AIDS and their advocates from 34 states in Washington, D.C., for the 21st annual AIDSWatch.
The advocates broke up into state-by-state groups that spent an entire day visiting every single House and Senate office to lobby for continued funding for the programs people with HIV/AIDS rely on most: the Ryan White CARE Act, Medicaid, Medicare and HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS), as well as continued research support for the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And, this year, there was another movement in play: the ongoing effort to roll back outdated, unfair laws that criminalize people with HIV for having sex even when they are not putting anyone at risk. AIDSWatch participants took time to educate congressional staffmembers about a bill put forth by Reps. Barbara Lee and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen that would urge states to review such old laws in the context of modern knowledge that people with HIV on meds are undetectable and thus uninfectious.
The first day of AIDSWatch, though, was Old Home Week, with activist friends old and new from across the nation gathering for a full day of plenary sessions, workshops -- and, most of all, just good old-fashioned fun, networking and even a bit of flirting! The Body's JD Davids, Charles Sanchez and Tim Murphy were there, capturing video clips of the goings-on such as these:
Bright and early the next morning, the day started with a rally to get everyone fired up:
And then, it was time to start those Capitol Hill visits. In many cases, lawmakers sadly weren't available, but their (generally very young) staffers got an earful of personal stories about the importance of preserving funding for health care, supportive services and research -- especially at a time when such funding is under threat across the board.
Here's the North Carolina gang as they share their tales with the staffers of their very conservative congressmembers:
And here's Hoosiers in da house! (Or is that the House?):
Here's the New Jersey gang!:
Needless to say, folks were tired at the end of that rainy Tuesday ... but VOICES WERE HEARD.
If you want to watch ALL our videos from AIDSWatch, go here.