National Condom Week is observed every year from February 14 to 21. It's fitting for this week of action to promote positive sexual health practices to be launched on Valentine's Day, a day that is budding with champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, romance, rose petals and yes, passionate sex! National Condom Week is promoted by great organizations such as Advocates for Youth and Planned Parenthood and their focus is to promote condom use and increase condom access and distribution.
But in Florida, the silence from Governor Rick Scott and Nathan Dunn (his political appointee who muzzles and stifles -- I mean serves-- as communications director for the Florida Department of Health) prevents pro-sexual health messages from being uttered. Normally I wouldn't have given this a second thought, but you need to consider Dunn's background:
For five years, Dunn was the Vice President of Public Policy and Communications for the Florida Family Policy Council, where he was able to direct public policy, guide legislative initiatives and manage countless volunteers through a successful passage of an amendment to Florida's constitution.
You might be asking yourself, what particular amendment to Florida's constitution are they talking about? Dunn (left) played a key role in jeopardizing the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Floridians with the passage of the discriminatory Florida Marriage Protection Act. This discriminatory law has denied countless committed same-sex couples lifesaving healthcare benefits because the State of Florida refuses to recognize their committed relationship.
Now, you also need to consider that this past December 1, when Governor Rick Scott was celebrating his birthday, his administration failed to dignify World AIDS Day by issuing even the simplest of proclamations. Previous Republican governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist at least minimally dignified Florida's HIV/AIDS epidemic with watered-down proclamations acknowledging the day and recognizing the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS in the state.
This AIDS activist now has just one more reason to mourn and grieve every December 1: the birth of Rick Scott.
Late last year, as the sole consumer representative to the Florida Department of Health's AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), I noted that the department's website failed to acknowledge the seriousness of HIV/AIDS in Florida. Florida ranks third in the nation with the highest new HIV infection rate, and is third in the nation for the most cumulative number of AIDS cases (126,581 in 2012). Miami leads the nation with the highest rate of new HIV infections per 100,000 and Fort Lauderdale follows close behind at #2.
When you count other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned teen pregnancies, the state's failure to implement a comprehensive plan is alarming, especially when you consider that the state fails to address these issues and willfully ignores the specific sexual health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians.
A few days after my complaint, I was pleased to see that the HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis Section took prompt action and updated their website to say:
Florida has been heavily impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The state continues to rank third in the nation in the cumulative number of AIDS cases (126,581 in 2012) and second in the nation in the cumulative number of HIV cases (49,058 in 2012). The Florida Department of Health estimates that approximately 130,000 individuals are living with HIV disease in Florida. Of those persons living with HIV disease, 49% are black, 29% are white and 20% are Hispanic. Men represent 70% of the cases. Persons over the age of 45 years represent 60%.
While the additional language is certainly a step in the correct direction, I remained concerned with the failure of Nathan Dunn and Florida's State Surgeon General John Armstrong to consider the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on gay men in Florida. After all, I am one of those Floridians.
But again, I wasn't surprised by the omission given Nathan Dunn's key role in the passage of the Florida Marriage Protection Act, better known as Amendment 2. Nathan in his previous paid roles has demonstrated his vitriol and willingness to marginalize the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians.
In my opinion as a social worker, it make him unfit to serve in an government agency. Partisan politics must never interfere with and diminish the efforts of public health officials who dedicate their lives to public service. The prejudices of socially conservative politicians have no place in public health.
LGBT Floridians need to remember this when we vote in this November's gubernatorial election.