Metro Weekly

Health providers and activists react to Trump’s omission of LGBTQ people from World AIDS Day proclamation

Critics stress importance of government funding and outreach to affected communities in fighting HIV epidemic

Donald Trump – Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Health care providers and activists are responding to the decision of President Trump to issue a proclamation for World AIDS Day omitting any mention of the impact that HIV/AIDS has had on the LGBTQ community.

In the proclamation, released Thursday evening, President Trump praised American innovation and public-private partnerships — with emphasis on private investment, philanthropy, and the work of faith-based organizations — as critical in helping combat the HIV epidemic. The proclamation praised the efforts of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and its efforts to link people in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly women and girls, with antiretroviral treatment. Trump also vowed to continue investing in testing initiatives so people will be able to know their HIV status.

“Today, on World AIDS Day, we honor those who have lost their lives to AIDS, we celebrate the remarkable progress we have made in combatting this disease, and we reaffirm our ongoing commitment to end AIDS as a public health threat,” the proclamation reads.

But, as with any other action taken by the Trump administration, the president’s proclamation was roundly criticized by some for omitting one of the chief groups impacted by the ongoing HIV epidemic.

Whitman-Walker Health, the community health center specializing in HIV prevention and treatment, issued a statement responding to Trump’s proclamation. In that statement, Whitman-Walker Health pointed out that the private sector investment alone is not sufficient to combat the epidemic and called on the president to “follow up [his] words with actions.”

“First, although we agree with the President that public-private partnerships have been critical to the successes to date, and will remain very important in the quest to end HIV, the Federal Government’s financial commitment, and its leadership, have been absolutely vital to breakthroughs in treatment and prevention,” Whitman-Walker said in its statement. “Without the Federal Government’s continued commitment to funding research; medical care and supportive services for people living with HIV; and major prevention initiatives, the promise of recent advancements may not be realized.”

Whitman-Walker also noted that part of the efforts to combat HIV rely on getting people to be tested and receive treatment on a regular basis from qualified medical providers — which, in turn, relies on people’s ability to access health insurance. The statement pointed out that recent efforts by the Trump administration to repeal the Affordable Care Act and reduce spending on Medicaid and Medicare seem to run counter to that goal. 

The health center also took issue with the omission of “those who continue to bear the brunt of HIV in this country: people of color, gay and bisexual men, and transgender women,” adding that the Trump administration “should clearly and categorically commit to addressing the epidemics that continue to ravage those populations.”

Chip Lewis, the communications director for the National Minority AIDS Council, said that the organization is “very disappointed that the White House proclamation did not specifically mention the LGBTQ community or communities of color, which are bearing the heaviest burden of the HIV epidemic. It shows how much work we still have to do to educate our leaders and advocate for policies that not only recognize the difficulties these communities face but actually take action to remedy them.”

DeMarc Hickson, the executive director of Us Helping Us, People Into Living, Inc., says he’s not surprised that the administration would omit LGBTQ people, particularly since the president and his advisers made it clear during last year’s presidential campaign that focusing on the LGBTQ community would not be a high priority.

“They’ve done everything they’ve said they would do. That’s who we elected,” Hickson says. “So it is not hard to believe that they would go to the extent of omitting already marginalized populations like the LGBT community.”

But other LGBTQ organizations defended the move. In response to a query about the seeming omission of the LGBTQ community, the Log Cabin Republicans implied the president’s decision not to single out any specific groups was a positive move.

“Taking identity politics out of the AIDS epidemic can help to remove lingering stigma and stereotype that HIV and AIDS is a ‘gay’ disease,” Gregory T. Angelo, the president of Log Cabin, said in an email.

The Human Rights Campaign previously released its own statement recognizing the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, in which the organization vowed to continue fighting against “the continued attacks by Donald Trump and Republican leadership on the Affordable Care Act and critical HIV and AIDS programs.”
 
That statement also skewered the president and his administration for its attempts to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act, its suggested budget cuts to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, which could affect LGBTQ communities and people living with HIV abroad, and for his failure to name a director to the Office of National AIDS Policy, the agency tasked with leading the response to the nation’s HIV epidemic.
 
“The White House’s failure to mention the LGBTQ community in its World AIDS Day Proclamation reflects their ongoing efforts to avoid addressing the needs of LGBTQ people,” David Stacy, HRC’s government affairs director, said in a statement. “This is part of a disturbing pattern of actions they have taken from attempting to ban transgender service members to issuing a sweeping license to discriminate. Further, Trump’s continued attacks on access to health care and critical HIV programs have already set back efforts to combat this epidemic.”
 
According to a 2014 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 56% of people in the United States currently living with HIV are gay or bisexual men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that men who have sex with men account for 70% of all new infections. People of color and transgender individuals are at increased risk of becoming HIV-positive, with the later group being five times more likely to be living with HIV.
 
“President Trump, LGBTQ people of color exist and are at an increased risk of living with HIV,” notes the LGBTQ Task Force in a press release that reads like an open letter to the president. “You seem to not acknowledge that LGBTQ people of color exist, or that they have unique needs when it comes to living with HIV….By ignoring LGBTQ people and people of color, you are ignoring LGBTQ people of color twice over. At a time when nearly one out of every five Black transgender women is living with HIV, this silence cannot continue.”
 
 
 
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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com