March 11, 2016
Stories really do make all the difference, whether swaying a legislator, combatting HIV-related stigma, addressing bigotry, or raising awareness. When woven together, they mark our hard-fought journey, measure our progress, and show just how far we have yet to go to make the promise of an AIDS-free generation a reality. It is clear that together we can end AIDS in America. It was especially evident during last week’s AIDSWatch—which took place in Washington D.C. from Sunday, February 28th to Tuesday, March 1st.
AIDSWatch 2016 presented by The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation was the largest and most successful yet—bringing more than 400 advocates from 35 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico to the nation’s capital on a solidified mission: to advocate for crucial changes needed to finally end the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Together, we met with over 238 congressional offices and educated them about important issues to people living with and impacted by HIV.
AIDSWatch kicked off on Sunday with an opening reception hosted by the U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus to provide advocates living with HIV an opportunity to network and mingle. AIDSWatch continued on Monday with a full day of training and networking starting with breakfast and a warm welcome by the AIDSWatch organizing partners—Robert Greenwald of the Treatment Access Expansion Project, Michael Kaplan of AIDS United, and Naina Khanna representing the U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus. Throughout the morning, attendees were trained on how to communicate their stories, HIV-related policy issues, and how to make a clear and effective legislative “Ask.”
The Puerto Rico delegation at AIDSWatch was the largest ever with seven total advocates. From left to right: Miguel Delgado, Dr. Rafael Torruella, and Anselmo Fonseca (PR State Lead).
On Monday evening at the Positive Leadership Award Reception, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation conferred the second annual Elizabeth Taylor Legislative Leadership Award to Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) and posthumously to Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) in recognition of their work advancing comprehensive sexual health education.
AIDSWatch organizers extended Congressional Leadership Awards to Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Chris Coons (D-DE) in recognition of their work advancing the lives of people with HIV and moving us closer to the end of the HIV epidemic.
Also honored at the reception were three extraordinary community leaders who are not only living openly with HIV, but are making a big impact on our country’s response.
Arianna Lint, is a “refugee” Latina Transgender Woman who just opened her own organization, Translatin@ Florida Chapter.
Gregorio Millett is a well-published and nationally recognized epidemiologist and researcher with significant experience working at the highest levels of federal HIV policy development at both the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mark Misrok is co-founder and President of the National Working Positive Coalition Board of Directors.
These accomplished leaders are far from being done—we look forward to keeping abreast of their legacies as they continue to pave the future of activism and pierce the stigma and inequities around HIV/AIDS in America.
On Tuesday, the final day, all 400 advocates marched to Capitol Hill and visited the offices of their Member of Congress; 101 with Republicans and 137 with Democrats.
“The faces and needs of individuals living with HIV/AIDS were made visible to members of Congress so that we were no longer viewed as just a number,” said Walter “Allen” Pittinger-Dunham, the D.C. Team Lead and an AIDSWatch newcomer. “Those who hold powerful positions were provided with real life experiences and stories of people like myself who have been living with HIV. We were given an opportunity through AIDSWatch to verbalize exactly why we must continue advocating for HIV-forward policies until the end of the epidemic is reached.”
William “Scott” Daly, a longtime advocate from Schenectady, New York, shared his insights: “The one thing I have learned from all 18 years of coming to AIDSWatch and working with legislators from New York—whether Democrat or Republican—they all get that AIDS is a crisis in our state, and because of the investments made into Ryan White appropriations, Housing Opportunities for People Living With HIV, National Institute of Health research funding, as well as other cost effective programs, our state is doing much better in its’ fight against the spread of this disease. As a result, over the past year, our Governor has formed a task force that has developed a blue print to End AIDS by 2020.” Immediately following AIDSWatch, Scott and his New York delegation were able to secure Representative Paul Tonko’s (D-NY) commitment to a sign-on letter in support of appropriation requests for the Ryan White Program. This is just one of many AIDSWatch success stories.
AIDSWatch may be over, but advocacy doesn’t happen just here in DC. You can still use the power of your voice and story to make a difference from your home district! Use our Policy Action Center to look up your representatives, get information about new HIV-related legislation, and stay current on important policy news. We also encourage you to use and adapt the AIDSWatch fact sheets and the advocate briefing presentation in your meetings with your federal representatives in their district offices. They are a great tool to help elected officials understand the HIV epidemic and know how they can make a difference.
Thank you for your tenacity, passion, and dedication. Together, our advocacy and stories will bring us that much closer to ending the epidemic.
AIDSWatch would not be possible without the dedication of our organizing partners Treatment Access Expansion Project, AIDS United, the US People Living with HIV Caucus and the generous support from our sponsors: AIDS Foundation of Chicago; AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin; AIDS United; amfAR; Bristol-Myers Squibb; The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation; Human Rights Campaign; Legacy Community Health; Merck; National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors; National Black Justice Coalition; NMAC; Planned Parenthood Action Fund; Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative; Treatment Action Expansion Project; and The US People Living with HIV Caucus.