Since the 2016 election, American life has existed somewhere in between a bad telenovela and a must-see reality TV show. Unfortunately, this isn’t fiction and for many of us, these are the scariest of times, as we watch many of the laws and rights we once thought were sacred continue to be attacked by an administration intent on hurting the most marginalized. As someone living with HIV, the fight has become a daily struggle against losing decades of advancement to the hands of hatred and bigotry.
I’ve lived under the assumption that people living with HIV in America would be “all right.” In saying that, I don’t mean the struggles over access to care, or resources or education are in the best place, but that there was a consensus that this pocket of funding and resources, regardless of political affiliation would be “all right.” I now wake up every day and question whether we, the HIV community, will be “all right” in the face of an administration whose homophobia and bigotry runs so deep, that it’s willing to undo over 40 years of work.
The last 18 months have been a masterclass in how one would destroy the HIV community. It started in January, following inauguration, when many of us noticed the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) website get taken down. When the administration was questioned, they stated that this was a normal part of a presidential transition. However, the site never came back up as anything more than an archive for old data. The White House committee under that office was disbanded and the country currently sits with no national policy on HIV/AIDS.
It was then in March that President Trump stated he would not touch HIV funding. It seemed too good to be true, but who in their right mind would really mess with the funding that is preventing the country from having another epidemic? Trump would. By May, his first draft budget asked that nearly $400 million in funding be cut between domestic funding and PEPFAR. This was taken a step further when the actual budget submission asked that 1.2 Billion be cut from funding, a number that would literally stall HIV prevention and treatment efforts–harming many of the non-profits that depend on government funding to do work with the most affected black and brown communities.
The attack would continue into December of 2017, when the administration officially disbanded the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS (PACHA), a move that stunned the HIV community. In less than 12 months, HIV work had been turned into a fight to protect one of the most vulnerable communities in the country. Fear was finally seeping in, with our only refuge being that Congress continued to keep funding levels the same despite the numerous attempts to defund.
That was until two weeks ago, when the Trump administration decided to correct one heinous act by potentially doing another. As the separations of children from their families at the border continued to make headlines, taxpayers began questioning how we as a country were going to fund the detained families and children while providing care for them pending trial. That answer came in the form of an ask to Congress to defund the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program by $545 million.
Congress has now been placed between a rock and a hard place, with a decision that will hurt someone no matter how the pendulum swings. HIV is still an epidemic in various black and brown demographics–effecting MSMs and black women at rates much higher. Both domestically and abroad people are still dying from HIV and complications with AIDS. We have truly seen much progress in treatment and prevention over the past several decades but know that progress can easily be stalled should we lose funding to continue these important efforts.
It is scary as hell to wake up every day and not be sure if you will be able to fill your prescription in the coming months. Ryan White funding helps approximately 52% of ALL people diagnosed with HIV in the United States. This latest attempt to defund HIV is dangerous and will potentially kill people from the most marginalized communities. Agencies depend on Ryan White funding to keep their doors open to communities that need help the most.
Despite these attempts, the HIV community continues to work in the face of this fear and continues to resist these efforts by the Trump Administration to send us back into the HIV of America’s past. It is not easy to be living with HIV and having this constant worry of what will happen should funding for your treatment be taken away.
It’s a sad day in America to see people so filled with hate take out their vitriolic actions on a community that has already had so much loss. It is a scary time to be living in as we watch morality and ethics seemingly grow farther and farther away from the people in power. I wake every day wondering when that headline will read “HIV has been defunded.” Until then, we must continue to fight in hopes of those words never seeing the light of day.
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