Jueun Choi
USA Today
March 29, 2017

 

WASHINGTON — More than 600 activists and allies from across the country gathered at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to push for HIV funding from their congressional leadership and spread awareness of issues facing people with HIV and AIDS.

“This is an important moment in American history for all of us addressing health care. The HIV community will do everything it can to continue to lead the way to make sure that people have access to prevention, treatment and care,” said Jesse Milan Jr., president and CEO of AIDS United, a national non-profit organization that aims to end the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.

The rally took place just four days after Republicans failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which many see as a lifeline for those with HIV/AIDS.

The news has “given all our participants and advocates for HIV/AIDS a new sense of hope that there is a possibility of achieving victory on the legislative front,” said Milan at the annual AIDSWatch, an advocacy event taking place since the 1990s that spotlights issues from health care to research to sex education in schools.

But the GOP bill’s failure did not stop concerns that HIV programs might still be at risk under President Trump’s recently released budget and beyond. “Just because the Friday vote did not occur, it doesn’t mean they don’t have the desire. This is the round-one fight of what I think is going to be a four-year fight,” said Joseph Butcher, an HIV activist who came from New York for the rally.

Participants at the AIDSWatch rally support the protection of HIV care under the Affordable Care Act, specifically Medicaid and pre-existing conditions. They also lobbied for:

  • Support for the REPEAL HIV discrimination act
  • Protection for entitlement funding and medication coverage
  • Investment in the Ryan White program
  • Federal investments in HIV research to come up with a vaccine for HIV/AIDS
  • Overhaul of HIV criminal laws
  • Comprehensive sex education

Angel Sato, community organizer at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, said Trump’s proposals could cut many people’s access to health care. “Trump is slashing everything for people who are HIV positive, and I want to try stop that because we need those services,” he said.

Quinn Tivey, grandson of Elizabeth Taylor and a trustee of her organization, was one of the speakers at the AIDSWatch rally on March 28, 2017. Photo credit: Sean Black

Joseph Butcher has had HIV/AIDS for 28 years, and his medical care comes through the Ryan White fund and Medicaid. “If I didn’t have the health care, I could have easily died sitting in an emergency room chatting about who’s going to be charitable enough to take care of me,” he said.

The Ryan White CARE act, enacted in 1990 and named for an Indiana teen who became a crusader for AIDS research and awareness, is the largest federally funded program for those with HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

This is the third year that The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation is sponsoring AIDSWatch. After the rally, participants flocked to lawmakers’ offices on Capitol Hill to make personal appeals for funding.

“The most important thing today is to have time with our representatives and make sure our voices are heard and that our concerns are spoken clearly,” said Quinn Tivey, grandson of Taylor and one of the trustees of the organization.

He said that some of the challenges that HIV activists face include the public’s lack of education and understanding, along with budget constraint and policy issues.

“The lack of attention toward the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS is related to homophobia and transphobia and other issues that cause stigma. We’re here to erase that,” said Daniel Franzese, actor for Mean Girls and an ambassador of The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.