This morning as D.C. Mayor Gray took the stage to speak at the official opening of the Global Village at the International AIDS Conference, at least a dozen Housing Works activists marched down the aisles chanting "Housing is health care, end the waiting list now," admonishing Gray and his administration for having one of the country's largest waiting lists for HOPWA housing in the country. The activists convened in front of the Global Village stage wielding posters with a photo of Gray that condemned his deceitful depiction HIV/AIDS rates in the District, and calling for a truly comprehensive plan to end AIDS in the city.
Gray was noticeably stunned and stood by uncertainly as he waited for the activists' next move before daring to speak. The activists, lead by Housing Works' Director for National Advocacy and Organizing Larry Bryant, continued to rouse the crowd into anger as audience members began to chime in with the groups chants, including "We can end AIDS!" Gray tried to stop the activists' momentum by saying "Excuse me, excuse me," but was overrun by the passion from the audience, as a number of spectators left their seats to join the protestors at the front of the stage.
Gray's planned speech was delayed for over fifteen minutes as activists continued to garner supporters and cheers from the crowd.
After their cheers, one protestor pointedly asked, "Mr. Mayor, will you commit that in six months, you will have the one thousand people in D.C. waiting for HOPWA housed?" Gray remained silent and readjusted his spectacles before seemingly deflecting the heat by asking Dr. Pappas, Senior Deputy Director of the Department of Health, "Will you stand please, Dr. Pappas? Do we have a plan for HIV/AIDS in D.C.?" Pappas stood and nodded, but made no comments.
The activists then began chanting, "Give us the plan, give us the plan!" Gray paused before stating, "We are following President Obama's National Strategy Plan and we are measuring our goals against the plan." Gray continued speaking, but his speech was disappointing and vague, merely repeating the same points that he stated yesterday at the conference's opening ceremony: that he has implemented two hours of required HIV/AIDS engagement for city officials: one hour for HIV/AIDS training and education and one hour for testing, and claiming that no babies in D.C. have been born positive since 2009, a statistic that I have been thus far unable to verify.
Gray cut his speech short, closing by welcoming folks to the Global Village and the International AIDS Conference and then walking off stage. Activists fired up their chanting again, cheering "Numbers don't lie, politicians do!"
Gray and his city's administration have come under fire from activists and domestic AIDS leaders for failing to cite the city's rates of heterosexual HIV transmission -- which has nearly doubled in the last year -- as well as the alarming rates of infection among gay and bisexual men, as well as men who have sex with men, in D.C.