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ON WORLD AIDS DAY, MAKE TR*MP END THE EPIDEMIC

December 1, 2019

Imagine opening your mouth to say you are going to end world hunger or create world peace without discussing any plan or strategy. Well, during the State of the Union address back in February of this year President Tr*mp did just that, out of the blue. According to Science Magazine, “Trump devoted 63 words to the topic in his speech, which left many unanswered questions about what, exactly, the administration plans to do, how much it will cost, and where the money will come from.”

Over these past 35 years, we have had many campaigns and slogans to eradicate the virus that has taken millions of lives, over 700,000 of those in America. Knowing that we are under an openly anti-Black xenophobic administration, if we truly want to end the epidemic, we will need a strategy and hold the flame to those who concoct. Especially when you take into account all of the anti-queer assaults this administration has committed prior to this announcement, attacking communities most harmed by the epidemic. 

The timeline of events doesn’t lie. In 2017, after taking office, The Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) was shut down with no reasoning. By March of that same year, Trump was making promises that he would not touch HIV funding. However, by May, under his first budget proposal, there was an attempt to cut both foreign and domestic funding by nearly $300 million dollars. By the time the final budget request was submitted in September, nearly $1.1 billion was asked to be cut — $400 million of that domestically and $700 million from the PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program. The final act was disbanding the President’s Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS in December of 2017. 

Since that time, we have also seen this administration harm Black and Brown communities through policies like the transgender military ban. The request for the CDC to remove certain words from funding opportunities such as “vulnerable and scientific-based,” which again harms queer people. Hence, there was a lot skepticism when the State of the Union statement was made — seeing as how everything that preceded it was a direct contradiction. However, by September of 2019, a full plan was revealed:

The initiative seeks to reduce the number of new HIV infections in the United States by 75 percent within five years, and then by at least 90 percent within 10 years, for an estimated 250,000 total HIV infections averted.

The new plan was very detailed, with over $290 million in funds set aside for it — although these aren’t new funds, but a repurposing of normal anti-HIV funding. Now when a statement like that is made, every organization involved in HIV work knows that a funding opportunity will soon follow. A funding opportunity is basically where the government announces a large sum of money to be distributed to “organizations” doing HIV work in various capacities. Those capacities usually include some form of testing for HIV and other STIs, Treatment and adherence programs, capacity building, PrEP and other facets under the TASP (Treatment as Prevention) aesthetic. 

As someone living with HIV, I take conversations around the epidemic very seriously because not only do they impact my community, but they impact me directly. Every decision that is made regarding how the federal government will handle the current state of the epidemic will dictate my daily life in some way. So, when folks throw out that we are going to “End the Epidemic,” it cannot be taken lightly. 

I recently had the opportunity to sit amongst a room of Community Based Organizations and AIDS Service Organizations attempting to create a strategy for how we would work together to actually End the Epidemic. I reminded of the stories of how Black folks used to strategize during the civil rights movement, creating plans together even if society saw us all as separate entities wanting separate things. It was a moment of clarity on how we as Black and brown folks would have to use this next decade to do the impossible and end an epidemic that we didn’t create for ourselves. 

As we hear all the stories on this World AIDS Day, I’m thoughtful about how many people dreamed to see a society where people who were HIV positive lived a decent life. I imagine they longed for a day where they weren’t attending a funeral every week and their existence was seen as a ticking clock towards their mortality. As we now embark on this final journey to end the epidemic it is not without those who we have lost. Those who fought for us to see this day. It will take the spirit of ACT UP and so many other movements that got us here to take us to that day. We can’t be silent nor complacent in this era to End the Epidemic. If we are, we will be here 10 years from now with a new slogan and more folks who have joined our HIV ancestors.

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