Ford Hall Forum challenges community to broaden vision of HIV/AIDS movement
Posted Oct 01 2010 10:14am
Ford Hall Forum panel: ‘What we’ve accomplished so far shows what’s possible when we work together, but it doesn’t show justice’
Despite amazing progress fighting AIDS and the transmission of HIV, the “old intractables of the epidemic continue,” observed Kevin Cranston, Director of the Massachusetts Bureau of Infectious Disease, at the Sept. 30 panel discussion “AIDS, Social Justice, and the Politics of Transformation,” sponsored by Ford Hall Forum . Today, just as it was 30 years ago, disproportionately high rates of HIV infection plague African American and Latino communities as well as gay and bi men, who “continue to be infected at a rate of about one per day.”
Davids, who emphasized that no one should ever give up on finding a cure for AIDS, also noted that it would be impossible to end the transmission of HIV without also dealing with the social drivers of the epidemic. Those include unstable housing and homelessness; the marginalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people; and the high numbers of people, particularly people of color, who are incarcerated in the U.S. With the last example, Davids said, sometimes HIV prevention does not need to be about HIV; if we simply put fewer people in prison we would lower the rates of HIV infection.
Davids added that while the early years of fighting AIDS show what’s possible when people come together to work cooperatively under enormous stress and need, those early accomplishments do not show what social justice looks like.
Both Davids and Chacón spoke of the need to build partnerships across communities. Diallo gave the example of AIDS activists joining with reproductive rights and civil rights activists in response to a billboard campaign spearheaded in the South by Alveda King, a niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The billboard campaign claimed that high rates of abortion among African American women were turning black infants into an “endangered species.”
“Women who are living with HIV got directly involved with a counter campaign,” Diallo recalled, because gaining control over their reproductive choice and health is a much-needed first step many HIV positive women must take before dealing with HIV. “So Alveda King’s campaign helped trigger a partnership with civil rights community, LGBT community, and reproductive rights community,” Diallo said.
Even so, questions from the audience also prompted discussion of the need for care and advocacy for people with HIV/AIDS by people who come from their community. An older African American man, who said he’d been living with HIV for more than 20 years, pointed out that that the only way he was able to get clean and live without shame about his HIV status was with the help of other African American men. “Nobody understands our plight like our own people,” he said.
Diallo agreed. “Heterosexual brothers in the black community need more than Magic,” she said to applause. “While it’s so important to be engaged, it is equally if not more important to make sure there is a direct relationship with people who know the problem.”
Chacón added that the more HIV outreach can be tailored to specific communities, the more effective it can be, citing the example of messages targeted toward gay Dominicans versus those for gay Latinos.
Other points raised by panelists and audience members:
The National HIV/AIDS Strategy is critically important. But it gives scarce attention to the needs of women, those who are incarcerated, and young people. When the leading cause of death in the United States for African American women age 25 to 34 is AIDS, that’s not an oversight, it’s neglect. It is up to everyone fighting HIV/AIDS, and particularly women of color themselves, to keep raising awareness and doing education and outreach to these communities.
Political prohibitions on talking openly about gay and bi men, which was the case during the Bush administration when even using the euphemism “men who have sex with men” was sometimes problematic, is one of the reasons that no federal plan to deal with HIV/AIDS had ever existed prior to the one released by the Obama Administration this July.
Homophobia is so ingrained that even in a state like Massachusetts — which has led the nation in expanding rights that impact lesbian, gay and bisexual people — gay and bi men are still grossly disproportionately impacted by HIV as compared with the rest of the population.
While people owe their lives to the science of fighting AIDS, we will never be able to test and treat our way out of the epidemic.
We need to replicate some of the success stories in the HIV/AIDS epidemic (in Massachusetts peri-natal transmission of HIV has been virtually eliminated and transmission via injection drug use is a rarity) to other affected communities.
Young people need comprehensive sexuality education in schools.
Advocates must eliminate AIDS exceptionalism. It was useful in the early years to mobilize resources, but that’s not the case today.
The HIV/AIDS communities should be sharing resources and knowledge to fight the spike in Hepatitis C infections.
In closing, Cranston observed that the movement to fight AIDS grew out of other, existing civil rights movements. Today, in order to eliminate the transmission of HIV, we need sex education in schools, full-scale reproductive rights for women and their partners, access to health care, and full societal acceptance for LGBT people.
“That’s not an AIDS agenda, that’s a social justice agenda,” Cranston said. “Many of us are now renewing our commitment to our roots.”