September 5, 2008
CHANGE FOR THE WORSE
Munar, Glover and GMHC's Dr. Marjorie Hill at the DNC
HIV/AIDS should be a nonpartisan issue—but it should be a bipartisan one, too. As of Thursday, this year's Democratic and Republican National Conventions had barely touched on HIV/AIDS, and for the first time since 1992, there wasn't a single HIV-positive speaker at either convention. The Dems have had an HIV-positive speaker every year since 1992; Republicans have twice had HIV-positive AIDS advocate Mary Fischer address the its convention.
"Not to see an HIV-positive speaker in Denver was disappointing, especially with the reported rise in new infections," said David Munar, an HIV-positive Obama delegate who took a vacation from his job as vice president of policy and communications at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago to attend the Democratic convention. Munar added that "actions speak louder than words" and that he was willing to wait and see what Obama might deliver as President.
Munar's presence alone made a difference at the DNC—Munar, who is also the incoming president of the National Association for People with AIDS, was shown on CNN for 15 seconds during Michelle Obama's speech wearing a NationalAidsStrategy.org T-shirt. Afterwards he received an e-mail (via the National AIDS Strategy web site) from a newly infected person thanking him for being visible at the convention. The e-mail read, "When I saw you with your shirt a great feeling of excitement, happiness and immediate sense of a call to action came over me. I paused, rewound, and paused again finding hope printed on your chest. Thank you for bringing back to life a part of me that I'd felt was long dead."
AIDS wasn't completely absent from the discussion. In Denver Bill Clinton said Obama would, "continue the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria, including a renewal of the battle against HIV/AIDS here at home." Michelle Obama made a nod to AIDS while talking to the LGBT caucus. And B-list celeb Danny Glover joined politicians and AIDS advocates—a handful of whom were delegates—at a luncheon celebrating Congressional leadership on HIV/AIDS and calling for a National AIDS strategy.
NAPWA's Director of Federal AIDS policy Kali Lindsey gave the Dems mixed reviews. Lindsay issued a call for speakers at the convention after NAPWA realized that HIV-positive speakers were MIA from both convention agendas. "We took it for granted that it would happen at least at the Democratic convention," Lindsay said. "We did have GLBT issues spoken about and integrated into messages, which is a great step forward." Munar noted, "There were many topics discussed at the convention consistent in policy goals addressing AIDS, including national health care reform."
What do the Republicans have to say for themselves?
In St. Paul, (as of press time) AIDS was only loosely on the agenda. Unsurprisingly the focus was on the global, with Republicans touting PEPFAR and Laura Bush, mockingly stating of the increased access to antiretrovirals in Africa, "You might call that change you can really believe in."
Mainstream AIDS advocates weren't visible inside the RNC convention hall, and AIDS activists were largely absent from the protests as well. At the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, AIDS activists participated in a slew of protests, and in one case even got naked for the cause. But this time, further away from the center of the epidemic, although there were many protests—and activists arrested for offenses not punishable by law—none were directly focused in HIV/AIDS
NYC AIDS Housing Network co-executive director Sean Barry—a 2004 naked protester—noted that other commitments such as August's International AIDS Conference in Mexico City accounted for the lack major AIDS protests, naked or otherwise. "I wish I was confronting the RNC about the party's failure with AIDS in America despite they purport to take overseas," Barry said.