Fort Lauderdale hosts community discussion on HIV/AIDS
HIV/AIDS forum receives White House support, but where is the local community?
For years, national AIDS activists and advocates have been demanding that the President of the United States and Congress develop a national AIDS strategy to fight AIDS in America. In 2003, Congress passed the first ever United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and President George W. Bush signed the legislation into law, to fight and fund the AIDS pandemic around the world. While PEPFAR is one of the boldest steps our nation undertook to address AIDS globally; but we as a nation have continually failed to formulate an effective response domestically.
During the 2008 Presidential campaign, both candidates Barack Obama and John McCain committed to developing a National AIDS Strategy. They affirmed their committed in letters written for the 2008 United States Conference on AIDS, which was hosted in Fort Lauderdale. From the stage at the conference, Miami Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart echoed the need for the United States to develop such a strategy.
In less than his first year in office, President Obama has begun to fulfill a campaign promise. One of the President's top HIV/AIDS policy priorities is the development and implementation of a National HIV/AIDS Strategy with three (3) primary goals:
- 1. Reducing HIV incidence.
- 2. Increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes.
- 3. Reducing HIV-related health disparities.
As part of President Obama's call to action, The White House Office of National AIDS Policy is hosting a series of 14 community discussions around the nation to receive input from community-based organizations, churches, schools, businesses, research institutions and affected communities. Last Friday, the White House hosted a community discussion at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale.
In my personal opinion, it was a good forum and attended by a diverse group of people who offering varying perspectives from a number a communities. The opportunity to participate was there. What was missing was our local support of the event. Missing were critical stakeholders such as businesses and faith-based organizations and the community at-large.
One person in the gay community criticized the event being hosted "in the hood," as Dillard is located in an area with predominately black residents. Personally, I viewed it as a great opportunity to bridge diverse communities together affected and infected with HIV/AIDS for meaningful dialogue and understanding. This harsh and unwarranted criticism is a clear indicator that we as a society need to work harder to combat poverty, racism and homophobia serving among the root causes of AIDS.
In Florida, some of our state's priorities need to include the end of criminalization of people living with HIV/AIDS, development of a minimum standard for age-appropriate comprehensive sex education as outlined in the proposed Healthy Teens Act, and amending Florida's Drug Paraphernalia Statute to legalize needle-exchange programs. As a community, we also need to begin discussing and organizing around these and other critical issues of social justice. There are laws in our cities, states and nation that systematically disenfranchise LGBTQ individuals from the opportunity to have equal access to education, employment, housing, public accommodations (including laundry mats and restrooms) and more.
Last year at a town hall meeting in Fort Lauderdale, I publically urged Governor Charlie Crist to reject federal funds for ineffective "Abstinence-Only" sex-education programs. He committed to review the policy but, predictably failed to act. Earlier this year in Tallahassee, accompanied with Nadine Smith from Equality Florida, we met with the Governor's top health advisor in the Governor's Office to follow up. We were horrified (but not surprised) when Crist's advisor used Amendment 2 as their reason to support abstinence-only education, while at the same time failing to recognize that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) designation of "MSM" (Men having Sex with Men) are the most affected by the disease and not being afforded the equal opportunity to sex education. Quite frankly I need to ask myself, did the Governor abstain from sex prior to his recent heterosexual marriage?
We also pleaded for the Governor to review the state's Drug Paraphernalia Statute, so Florida doesn't miss out next year when the ban on federal funds is lifted to fund needle-exchange programs. Needless to say, his administration and our state legislature refused to develop or implement sound policy to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in Florida.
We as affected communities are yearning for genuine leadership in the fight to end AIDS. Over the past several years I have been extremely critical of elected officials for their lack of genuine involvement in HIV-related discussions.
We have an AIDS crisis in South Florida need our elected officials to participate and respond to President Obama's "Call to Action" and support the development of a National HIV/AIDS Strategy on the local level by creating an AIDS Task Force.
To learn more about the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, visit: www.nationalaidsstrategy.org
Published in the November 26, 2009 inaugural issue of Florida Agenda (formerly South Florida Blade)