February 15, 2008
Serrano and Norton fought to lift the ban on needle exchange funding for D.C.—next stop America?
Wednesday night, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC at large) hosted a Capitol Hill reception to celebrate the end of the ban on needle-exchange in Washington, D.C., but legislators and harm reduction advocates already have their eye on lifting the wider-reaching ban that prohibits federal money from being used for such programs. At the reception, there was little concern that a Bush rider to reinstate the D.C. ban would pass in the House (lest the House be seen as major flip floppers). José Serrano (D-NY), who is championing the legislation to lift the federal ban, said it was important to capitalize on the momentum of the success in D.C.
"Lifting the D.C. ban is great within itself, but we've always seen it as a stepping stone to ending the federal ban," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which sponsored Wednesday's celebration along with AIDS Action, the AIDS Institute, D.C. Appleseed, and PreventionWorks!
Hilary McQuie, Western Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, was glad to see AIDS groups in the house. "This has been a little off the map for AIDS advocates, and it's way past time," she said. "Every year that goes by there are more people who become infected. We can always put off trying to lift the ban, but now is the time."
More and more people seem to be getting the message that needle-exchange programs are a sane way to prevent the spread of HIV. Last Thursday, National Black AIDS Awareness Day, the NAACP and Urban League voiced their support of lifting the ban. Editorial boards at the Boston Globe and The Detroit Free Press also showed their support.
There are no illusions that Bush will be the president to sign it into law, but advocates are starting to organize and work with Congress now to get the federal ban on funding removed from the Labor HHS funding bill. Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, told AIDSVOTE.org they support lifting the ban. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Sen. John McCain's positions on needle exchange are unclear.
Nationally, there are more than 210 needle exchange programs in place in 36 states, and approximately half of the programs receive local or state funding.
Underway in D.C.
D.C. has one of the worst HIV/AIDS infections rates in the country: One out of every 20 Washingtonians has HIV/AIDS. IV drug users account for about a third of new AIDS cases annually, yet D.C. was the only city prohibited from spending its own funds to provide clean needles to addicts. Needle exchange programs have been proven to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, and not to increase drug use.
Now that the District can fund needle-exchange, the money has started flowing. The D.C. government allocated $650,000 to needle exchange programs. $300,000 is going to PreventionWorks!, which plans to use much of the funding to help other organizations set up needle exchanges. The remaining money will go to organizations interested in starting their own programs.
The ban was first imposed through a 1998 federal law that prohibits the District government from using local tax money to fund any organization that operates a needle exchange program. The House has added the ban each year to the District's appropriations bill. Despite the good news in D.C. and the new excitement over lifting the federal ban, advocates know that they have a fight on their hands. "It's bizarre what a lightning rod this issue is for the culture wars," McQuie said. "Nobody can dispute the science on it, but people make a point of putting the ban back in like it's a mainstay of the right-wing agenda. It's going for the lowest-hanging fruit."
Rep. Tom Lantos
AIDS advocates expressed deep sadness about the death of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the lead sponsor of a bill to reauthorize and expand the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Lantos, who was 80 years old when he died, was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress and a committed champion of global human rights.
The PEPFAR authorization was the first major piece of AIDS legislation he had sponsored. AIDS advocates are confident that his death will stand in the way of the PEPFAR reauthorization, because there are other committed sponsors in the Democratic majority, but said Congress had a responsibility to continue the work Lantos took up with PEPFAR.
"The fight against HIV/AIDS has lost a real hero. His leadership will be sorely missed," said Global AIDS Alliance executive director Paul Zeitz, in a statement. "To preserve his legacy, we must ensure that policy on global AIDS meets the high standards he would have demanded."
Lantos was co-chairman and founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a group that highlights human rights violations around the world, and his achievements in standing up for human rights include introducing sanctions against the junta in Burma, his pivotal role in passing a resolution pressing the Japanese government to officially apologize for the thousands of women used as sex slaves during World War II, and being one of the members of Congress purposefully arrested in 2006 outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington to denounce the government's role in the killings in Darfur.
In a press release four days before he died, Lantos issued a statement chiding Republican opposition to the PEPFAR reauthorization, after the press conference where Republicans and their allies falsely claimed PEPFAR would fund abortion. "The draft of the new global HIV/AIDS reauthorization bill reaffirms Democrats' commitment to the vast majority of the programs and policies established by the law that my friend Henry Hyde and I wrote in 2003. Henry, God rest his soul, joined me and many of our colleagues five years ago in ensuring that a bipartisan bill became law by creating a $15 billion program that has saved countless lives in some of the poorest countries in the world. That legislation included compromises on issues important to those of us who were then in the minority. It is a shame that the current minority is failing to honor this spirit of compromise and is willing to endanger a valuable U.S. foreign policy program addressing one of the most serious health care challenges that humanity faces today."
An RHrealitycheck.org column by reproductive health advocate Scott Swenson, used Lantos' death as an opportunity to chastise Lantos' friend Bono (who sang at Lantos' memorial service) and other AIDS advocates who have tried to water down PEPFAR's committment to reproductive health in order to gain bipartisan support. Swenson wrote, "Some AIDS advocates seem too willing to appease, even though they know the scientific data, see the problems created by ideological politicians first-hand, and hear what public health experts around the world say. Bono's Debt AIDS Trade Africa and the Global AIDS Alliance are suggesting that Democrats on the Foreign Affairs Committee give in to ideological demands of the far-right. The bill is not even marked up or out of committee where less ideological Republicans can work with Democrats to strengthen the bill."
December 21, 2007
FINALLY, SOME PREVENTION JUSTICE
The road to accurate HIV/AIDS
prevention starts here
Could 2008 be the year the U.S. gets serious about comprehensive sex education and science-based HIV prevention? Not to get carried away, but going into the New Year, advocates have a few good reasons to be optimistic. In the space of a single week, Congress took some sane steps on domestic HIV prevention policies while D.C. schools began getting their comprehensive sex-ed act together. Unfortunately, PEPFAR funding still has to ride the abstinence-only bus.
School is (now) cool
After a short two years of deliberation, the Washington, D.C., Board of Education approved new standards for health education that include clear age-appropriate grade-by-grade guidelines for comprehensive sex education, including lessons on HIV/AIDS and contraception.
The adoption of the guidelines came only days after the Appleseed Center's "Report Card" that handed D.C. a "D" for the lack of a coordinated HIV/AIDS education program in the D.C. public schools.
The Sexuality, Reproduction & Health units—just one element of a larger health plan that also aims to curb D.C.'s obesity epidemic— start in third grade where students learn to "describe how individual bodies are different sizes, shapes, and colors, but are equally special, including those that are disabled."
Fifth graders are asked to "define STIs and HIV/AIDS; describe behaviors that place one at risk for HIV/AIDS, STIs, or unintended pregnancy; and explain why abstinence is the most effective way to prevent disease or pregnancy." In seventh grade, students must "describe short-term and long-term consequences of adolescent sexual activity, and the benefits of abstinence as the most effective means of contraception."
By eighth grade, D.C. kids will learn to "explain the relationship between injected drug use and diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis," "explain the importance of testing both partners for HIV and STIs before sexual behavior and the risks and precautions of birth delivery when HIV and STIs are present" and "Describe why abstinence and contraception are important." While the guidelines aren't perfect— for example, teaching how to use contraception such as condoms are not specifically mentioned as part of the curriculum. But advocates feel confident that this will lay the groundwork for a truly be a comprehensive sex education curriculum."We're ecstatic that for the first time in D.C.'s history there's a clear plan for each and every student to get consistent and high quality health information," said Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro TeenAIDS, a D.C.-based organization that has been working for four years to get a comprehensive-sex ed curriculum into all of the schools. "Now Metro TeenAIDS will be watching to make sure that the D.C. schools properly implement the guidelines. While the hard part will be getting the schools to implement the guidelines, this is a much-needed step to curbing D.C.'s HIV epidemic."
D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty has named HIV/AIDS D.C.'s No. 1 public health problem. Despite the poor grade from Appleseed on HIV education for school kids D.C.'s earned an "A" in the area of HIV surveillance.
Beginning of the end of ab-only funding?
Congress partially took the Update's advice, and cut a $28 million increase in the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program. While there is still way too much in funding for sex-ed programs that teach abstinence-until-marriage only, more states are starting to reject the money. This week, New Mexico became the fifteenth state to do so.
Tenner finds that heartening. "We're in a new age, especially in our urban communities so hard hit by HIV/AIDS," Tenner said. "The moral argument will change and people will no longer find it amoral to teach people how to protect themselves but will rather find it amoral to withhold information."
In more harm reduction hotness, the budget lifts the federal ban on D.C. spending its own funds to distribute clean needles, a prevention approach that has significantly slowed the spread of HIV among injecting drug users.
In other Congressional budget news...
The news wasn't so positive when it came to new President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funding and the notorious requirement that one-third of PEPFAR prevention funds go to abstinence-only HIV prevention. The 2008 budget approved by both houses of Congress this week gives $5 billion for global AIDS programs—one billion less than AIDS advocates requested, and PEPFAR received $600 million less than advocates requested. Despite this shortfall, PEPFAR includes funding for good, targeted programming, such as $115 million to spend on tuberculosis programs. "Even though it's a billion short, we've won some important changes," said David Bryden, of the Global AIDS Alliance.But Bush is expected to use his line-item veto to eliminate language in the budget that would relax PEPFAR's abstinence education strings. "The Bush administration feels the program's going just fine," Bryden said.
It was a mixed bag for home-front funding, with tiny Ryan White CARE Act increases (Part A and ADAP) cut when the Senate-forced Iraq war funding imposes across-the-board domestic cuts, and a cut in Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funding. Bah humbug. To read a wrap-up of AIDS advocates reactions, click here for coverage in the Gay City News.
October 26, 2007
COUNT WOMEN IN
Ten smiling briefing attendees telling CDC marriage is an
HIV risk factor
After Dr. Bishop Joyce Turner Keller was raped in 1995, she was tested for STDs—but not HIV. It was only after she was in a car accident and developed a staph infection that she demanded an HIV test, which came back positive. "Had I not continued to seek answers, because I am a woman who does not fit the CDC surveillance criteria, before you today would be a woman with only one leg and a crutch," Keller, the Campaign to End AIDS National co-chair, told the crowd at Monday's Congressional Breakfast Briefing, Women and AIDS: Federal HIV-Reporting Policy and Its Impact on Women, sponsored by National Women and AIDS Collective (NWAC).
Sixty percent of women are classified as "no identified risk" under the Centers for Disease Control's transmission risk guidelines, a designation that affects funding priorities, prevention efforts and who is and who isn't tested for HIV. But over the last year NWAC (founded by the Ms. Foundation in 2005) with the help of the National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA), organized the Congressional briefing as a first step in plans to raise awareness and to pressure legislators to push CDC to change the policy.
These organizations want the CDC to include all heterosexual sex as a risk and revise the transmission risks to accurately capture socioeconomic and environmental data, such as where one lives, post-incarceration rates, poverty and homelessness. Such factors play a role in high HIV infection rates among women of color, who make up 82 percent of all new infections among women, and low income women. Staffers from the offices of Hillary Clinton, Edward Kennedy and Yvette Clark, were all in attendance at the breakfast.
"The system is broken"Currently, people who test positive for HIV are typically classified in one of the follow transmission categories (in order of risk):
- 1. MSM (male-to-male sexual contact)
2. MSM/Injection drug use
5. Heterosexual contact (male or female who has sexual partner who is IDU, MSM and/or HIV positive)
7. Occupational exposure
8. Perinatal exposure
9. NIR (no identified risk)
"What we saw across the board at NWAC was that too many women who came to our agencies after finally testing positive said, 'I never heard a message that reflected me as a heterosexual woman in a monogamous relationship. I heard you had to be a gay person or a sex worker,'" said Carrie Broadus, executive director of the Women Alive Coalition and an NWAC member. "The data should be driving the system, but the system is broken."
With 25 percent of Americans with HIV still unaware of their status, changing the CDC's risk guidelines is crucial. Women comprised 27 percent of new HIV infections in 2005, up from eight percent in 1985.
NAPWA Vice President Vanessa Johnson spoke of how she "self-selected out" of being tested for HIV in 1990. "My doctor said, 'Do you do this, or do that?' and then told me I had mono," Johnson said. "It saddens me that 17 years later the same thing is happening." Another woman, who withheld her name, experienced a similar situation when she was diagnosed this year after incorrectly assuming her fiance was monogamous.
"Most policy initiatives begin with awareness," said Gay Mens Health Crisis executive director Dr. Marjorie Hill, who spoke at the briefing and fully supports the initiative. "We have to continue to build upon the organizing that's being done to make this change happen."
October 19, 2007
RESOURCEFUL DAY IN D.C.
Lindsay, Hader and Dunington
Last Tuesday was only Dr. Shannon Lee Hader's second official day on the job, but Washington, DC's new director of the Department of Health's HIV/AIDS Administration knew where she needed to be—at DC Fights Back's Resource Day. Hader gave opening remarks, where she spoke about the need for the government to work more closely with people with HIV and AIDS service providers. Hader then surprised organizers by staying for the duration of the program and making her way around the crowd to meet every person in attendance.
"I was very pleased to attend the DC Fights Back Resource Day on Tuesday and very impressed by the excellent participation from so many members of the HIV/AIDS community, both persons living with HIV and service providing organizations," Hader told the Update. "For my second day on the job as the new administrator of the DC HIV/AIDS Administration, it was a great opportunity to hear directly from the community on service needs and exchange ideas on improving programs to fight the HIV epidemic in the District of Columbia."
DC Fights Back members were equally impressed by Hader. "It says a lot about her priorities," said Alex Lawson, a member of DC Fights Back who helped organize the event. "That's pretty new to DC, where walls fly up very quickly." DC Fights Back, a chapter of the Campaign to End AIDS, has been reaching out to Hader since Fenty announced her appointment in August, and even devoted a section of their website to welcoming her as DC's new top AIDS official.
Hader has a tough task ahead. It is estimated that 1 in 20 residents of DC has HIV—or five percent of the population. Hader is entering a post that has been vacant since Mayor Adrian Fenty took office in 2006.
Building bridges with Hader wasn't the only goal for DC Fight's Back's Resource Day. Some 100 people gathered at the Westminster Presbyterian Church sanctuary from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. so people with HIV could learn where to access services and providers could make connections. While DC has a large network of AIDS service organizations and resources, residents don't always know how to get through the maze to access programs and have to lean on advocates and case managers to do the work for them. More than 20 organizations had tables that more than 100 consumers visited throughout the day.
In addition to making opening remarks, Hader sat on a panel with providers Patricia Nalls, of Womens Collective, who spoke about women's issues; Geno Dunington, of DC Fights Back, who spoke about mental health; Arnita Wilson of Metro Teen AIDS, who spoke about HIV/AIDS among teenagers; Renee Kelly of Housing Counseling Services, who spoke about housing; and Deborah Hagans of RAP, Inc., who spoke about substance abuse.
"AIDS as a disease itself is such a small part of what's going on," said Cherie D. Lindsay, of DC Fights Back, who was one of the event's facilitators, explaining why the panelists addressed such a broad array of topics. "You can care less about taking your AIDS meds if you don't have housing or if you have a mental illness."
During a question and answer session, facilitated by Campaign to End AIDS National Organizer Larry Bryant, attendees rose numerous issues, especially the difficulty of obtaining housing and jobs. The chance to air their concerns and hopes for the future, left people living with HIV, providers, advocates, and government officials feeling optimistic. "Collectively we all came together," Lindsay said. "The day far exceeded our expectations."
June 8, 2007
NEEDLES IN A MONEYSTACK
Keep it clean
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government voted Tuesday to lift the federal funding ban on needle exchange programs in the District of Columbia. This would allow the city to use local tax dollars for needle exchange program for the first time in almost a decade.
Grant Smith from the Drug Policy Alliance said there are several more hurdles that need to be jumped before the ban is lifted.This was just the first one," he said.
“The bill will have to go through the House and Senate approval processes and conference before it is signed by the President," Smith said. "The FY02 budget was the last time the Senate passed the bill without the rider. When the House and the Senate went to conference, the rider went back in. We want to avoid that this time around."
The ban was first imposed through a 1998 federal law that prohibits the District government from using local tax money to fund any organization that operates a needle exchange program. The House has added the ban each year to the Sistrict's appropriations bill.
Washington, D.C. has one of the worst HIV/AIDS infections rates in the country: one out of every 20 Washingtonians has HIV/AIDS. IV drug users account for about a third of new AIDS cases annually, yet D.C. is the only city prohibited from spending its own funds to provide clean needles to addicts.
More than 210 needle exchange programs are in place in 36 states nationwide, and approximately half of the programs receive local or state funding.
Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-Kansas) wrote the ban and sits on the Appropriations Committee. While Tiahrt claims NEX programs have been proven"ineffective and a threat to the surrounding community, especially the children," the Drug Policy Alliance said they have provided him with numerous studies proving the effectiveness of needle exchange program.
"Rep.Tiahrt's claim that syringe exchange programs don't work is similar to claiming the world is flat," said Bill Piper, National Affairs Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We want him to have the information so he doesn't continue to embarrass himself and, more importantly, sabotage this life-saving measure."
This week's subcommittee vote marks the first time in a long time that D.C. needle exchange providers and activists have felt real hope. In the next few weeks Washingtonians will wait and watch and weigh in. Those people will include one man who's got the power to do something once the ban is lifted — new D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is standing ready to direct District dollars to needle exchange programs the minute the ban is removed.
May 25, 2007
VOICE OF THE PEOPLE
DC Fights Back cochair Danielle Pleasant and Speak Out organizer George Kerr.
Washington, DC, mayor Adrian Fenty may not be the AIDS crusader some had hoped for, but his administration edged closer to understanding the impact of the epidemic on his constituents last week.
On Thursday, May 17, nearly 80 people gathered at Westminster Presbyterian Church for a Speak Out sponsored by Campaign to End AIDS affiliate DC Fights Back intended to give people living with HIV/AIDS a voice in addressing the District's AIDS crisis. "It was the most diverse group I've ever seen talk about the epidemic in DC," says DC Fights Back's George Kerr. "We wanted to hear what the concerns of the community were. We didn't want to people telling the community what their needs were — they've already had that."
Kerr is referring to the somewhat controversial HIV/AIDS summit that Fenty convened last April. Fenty first had advocates worried because he promised to have the summit within 100 days of taking office, and it wasn't until the Day 91 that he made good on that promise. But the summit turned out to be invitation-only and few HIV-positive folks were included. "The first summit was filled with people you would expect to see at a country club outing," said Larry Bryant, national organizer for the Campaign to End AIDS and DC Fights Back cochair. "It's frustrating to see people sitting around in leather chairs talking about HIV. Every once in a while it's nice to hear from those who actually access the services that are being discussed."
DC Fights Back responded to Fenty's misstep by organizing last week's Speak Out, a second, unofficial, summit of people living with HIV/AIDS. Although they couldn't be reached for comment, Fenty's representatives and members of DC's HIV/AIDS Administration were on hand for the event.
Some attendees, like opening speaker and HIV-positive DC Fights Back member, Gino Dunnington, wanted to make sure that not just Fenty but national leaders understood the crisis going on in their own backyard. "If you go to Capitol Hill, they'll say, 'Aren't we doing a wonderful job in Africa?' but here in DC, we have people with AIDS struggling to stay alive in homeless shelters," he says. It is estimated that 1 in 20 residents of DC is infected with HIV. In 2005, the actual AIDS case rate was 179.2 per 100,000, compared to the U.S. average of 15 per 100,000.
Breakout session topics included housing, women's services, stigma, substance abuse, and youth and education. The youth session drew the largest crowd, with at least 30 participants. It didn't hurt that Miss District of Columbia International 2006, Rita Sinha, joined that group. Sinha, who promoted an abstinence HIV/AIDS Prevention platform during her reign compared notes with comprehensive sex-ed advocates. The housing breakout session was especially promising because participants formed a committee to draw up a housing plan to bring to the city.
Bryant thinks Fenty needs a wake-up call. "He realizes enormity of the task," he says. "But since he's been elected, he's been very hard to find." Dunnington is also passionate about ending D.C.'s AIDS emergency but less critical of Fenty. "I'm a baby-step person," Dunnington said. "I like baby steps because it shows progress."
D.C. Fights Back is planning more Speak Outs in the near future. That should thelp Fenty walk the walk on HIV/AIDS.
For more information on D.C. Fights Back go to dcfightsback.org
April 13, 2007
STORMING THE HILL
Ready for action, 45 Housing Works clients hit Capitol Hill.
I was so excited about the trip, I couldn’t sleep last night. —Curtis Lewis, W. 13th St. client advisory board chairman
I got on the bus this morning because nobody can speak for me better than I can. —Kiara Saint James, Housing Works Thrift Shop employeeI really got into the spirit of the awards and remembering Keith this week. What an amazing few days it has been. —Deborah Peterson Small, Recipient of the 2007 Virginia Shubert Courage Award
You need to have a pretty good reason to get up early enough to make an 8am bus on a chilly spring morning for a four-hour ride from New York to Washington, D.C. But Curtis Lewis, Kiara Saint James, and more than 40 other Housing Works clients had one: the annual visits to Congressional offices that are an essential component of the events connected with last night’s Keith D. Cylar AIDS Activist Awards.
Those intrepid clients also had some VIPs waiting for them: last night’s awardees Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga, Michael Rajner and Deborah Peterson Small. All three made the trip to D.C.--for Ross Quiroga, all the way from her hometown of LaPaz, Bolivia--to make Congressional stops of their own and attend a cocktail reception given in their honor by Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-NY) and POZ magazine. The other Cylar awardee and Housing Works State Issues Organizer Mark Hayes, who passed away last week, was palpably there in spirit. “I’m raising hell today to honor Keith and Mark Hayes,” said W. 13th Street client Damon Grandison.
To read more details about Ross Quiroga, Small, and Rajner’s visit, click here.
Meet and greet (and lose the gum)
After a road trip spent watching bootleg copies of Norbit and Crank, the Housing Works contingent pulled into the Capitol around 12:30, just in time for a quick lesson from development director Robert Cordero and New York State organizer Charles Long about Capitol Hill etiquette—lose the gum before your meetings, shake hands firmly—and a talking-points refresher.
The crew then split up into four groups to make an amazing 47 Congressional visits, including the entire New York and Mississippi delegations and all foreign relations and appropriations committee members. They completed this feat in an incredible two hours.
“It’s a lot of work, but forcing elected officials and their representatives to sit and listen to people living with AIDS and HIV is the best way to make the need for universal access to prevention, treatment, services and real to them,” said Charles King, Housing Works CEO and president, who went on several of the visits with awardees.
Folks were eager to share their personal stories and speak with legislative staffers about supporting the Early Treatment for HIV ACT (ETHA), increasing funds for the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) and universal access to health care.
During a visit with Denise Mixon, Rep. Towns’ deputy chief of staff, Saint James drove home the importance of housing and treatment by sharing her own story of overcoming drug addiction, homelessness and dealing with HIV as a transgender woman. Saint James, who has been with Housing Works for a decade, now works in the Thrift Stores warehouse and has become a fierce advocate. Mixon listened respectfully to Saint James and others and asked numerous questions about Housing Works programs.
“Meeting with [Mississippi Rep.] Bennie Thompson’s legislative assistant Karis Gutter made my day,” said Charles Waters, a client since 2003. The smooth talking Waters spoke with Gutter about the importance of housing and medical access for all HIV-positive individuals. “He sat us down like we were family. He was very humble, hospitable and knowledgeable. He said his office is 100 percent supportive of our needs. It was the best part the day.”
“The visits went really, really well,” said Christine Campbell, Housing Works director of national advocacy and organizing. “We met senators who were wiling to sign off on ETHA, reps who were willing to sign off on HOPWA. Some offices hadn’t heard about either piece of legislation! They were willing to take in the information and learn.”
A warm reception
Charles King, Ross Quiroga, Small and Rajner with a picture of Hayes at the reception.
One thing that helped the Cylar Awardees, clients and Housing Works staffers get through the long day? Knowing that a swank reception awaited them at the Rayburn House Office Building that evening.
Some 120 people attended, checking out tables strewn with New York City condoms and Keith Cylar photo buttons as they sipped cocktails and feasted on hors d’oeuvres. Campbell, Cordero and King all made speeches, then Pat Bass, project director for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and an old friend of Keith Cylar’s introduced Ross Quiroga, Rajner and Small who gave lively speeches about their work. (Bass filled in last minute for POZ editor in chief who, sadly, had to cancel due to illness.)
“It’s an honor to be here,” Bass said. “All the activists who are receiving awards represent Keith’s spirit. He was always there for people without a voice, as they are.”
Rajner spoke out about the importance of access to treatment, needle exchange and ETHA legislation in post-Katrina Florida. Ross Quiroga said how impressed she was by Housing Works and that the organization is proof that grassroots groups can make big changes. Small raised powerful questions about the absurdity of criminal drug charges compared to punishments for white collar crimes and spoke about how honored and humbled she was to receive an award named for her friend Keith Cylar.
The room was silent during a video about Cylar’s legacy and another that honored the memory of Mark Hayes. “We’ve lost another champion,” said Bass, of Hayes. “This makes us remember that this disease isn’t over and we have to keep fighting.”
On the road again…
The day was not over for the busload of road-trippers, who had a four-hour ride back to NYC, but the journey was clearly worthwhile.
“I used to do a lot of advocacy work with Mark Hayes in Albany. Today I feel like I picked up where I left off,” Grandison said.
Lewis, for one, couldn’t wait to do it all over again. “This was my first time doing this kind of advocacy and I plan to come back many times. It’s important to me to give something back. Housing Works has been life saving for me.”
Help us achieve our goal of raising $3 million for the Keith D. Cylar Activist Fund. To learn more about the fund and make a donation, click here.
POWER, MEET TRUTH
Awardees & HW staff with Charles Rangel’s health guy, John Shiner.
To kick off their busy week of Cylar Award events, this year’s honorees spent Monday and Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, meeting with a dozen members of Congress and staff to talk about their work and to push for change in policies and funding.
Among the highlights of this year’s visits:
Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga transfixed staffers with her personal perspective on vulnerability and HIV, and explained how AIDS programs must impact the daily living conditions of women in order to really make a difference. Ross Quiroga also learned about U.S. foreign policy first-hand and provided legislators’ staffs with insight into HIV in Latin America. “I have a better understanding how U.S. policies are made and how they affect other countries,” she says.
Deborah Peterson Small asked for immediate action on sentencing guidelines for cocaine possession and sale, and for the elimination of dramatic disparities in sentencing for crack, powder cocaine, and crystal meth, explaining how incarceration and inadequate access to treatment accelerate HIV among men and women in communities of color. “I felt challenged to make my case for how drug policy fits into AIDS advocacy,” she said. “Some the aides were very knowledgeable and understanding. Those that didn’t understand the issues heard things that made them think. That’s the best you can hope for.”
Michael Rajner testified to inadequate access to HIV prevention and treatment in the South, calling for federal funding for needle exchanges (especially in Florida), for passage of the Early Treatment for HIV Act to expand HIV care in Medicaid nationwide, and for improvements in affordability and access in the Medicare Part D program. Rajner was eager to make representatives aware of the effects of AIDS in his home state of Florida. “It’s still a Bible-belt state and nobody wants to admit there’s a problem,” he says. “Florida officials need be held accountable. I really appreciate Florida Rep. Bill Nelson being supportive in the fight. It was great to meet him.”
April 6, 2007
D.C. MAYOR’S AIDS “PEP RALLY”
Adrian Fenty, head cheerleader and mayor of Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty might have kept his word about holding an AIDS summit within his first 100 days in office this Wednesday, but it’s not clear whether the long-awaited event was a meaningful step - or an empty gesture.
“It felt more like a pep rally than a summit,” says Larry Bryant, Housing Works national field organizer. “There were no tangible plans, agendas or goals set for how he plans to fight the epidemic in the district. The day was spent rehashing issues that we were already aware of.”
Approximately 150 people attended the gathering at the Kaiser Family Foundation, including representatives from the D.C. Department of Health, D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration, Whitman Walker Clinic, Community Planning Group, Ryan White Planning Council, and leaders from grassroots organizations such as D.C. Fights Back and the D.C. chapter of the Campaign to End AIDS. The purpose of the day was to bring together city government, grassroots and community-based organizations to discuss strategies for and roadblocks to combating HIV in the District and to get the mayor to step up and assume a leadership role in the fight.
“We wanted to know where AIDS fell on administration's radar and the fact that the mayor kept his promise to have the summit in the first 100 days was positive,” says Alex Lawson, founder of D.C. Fights Back. “He said that AIDS is high on their agenda. Hopefully, this will open up channels of communication for the community to speak with the administration.”
No one at the wheel
However, what the mayor did not do was mention possible replacements for Marsha Martin, the former director of the HIV/AIDS division of the Department of Health. “He side stepped questions about who the potential candidates were,” says Bryant. “For 92 days, we’ve had nobody running the HIV/AIDS department in the city with the highest infection rate in the country.”
Washington, DC’s AIDS statistics are startling. Its AIDS case rate is 12 times the rate for the nation. In 2005, the AIDS—not HIV—case rate was 179.2 per 100,000, compared to New York City’s 39.7 and the U.S. average of 15 per 100,000. Actual HIV prevalence is still unknown for the District, but it is estimated that 1 in 20 is infected with HIV.
Bryant was also concerned by the lack of presence of actual HIV-positive people who access and rely on services in D.C. However, D.C. Fights Back and C2EA D.C. are planning a speak-out on May 17 at the Westminster Presbyterian Church starting at 7pm.
“The speak-out is completely open to the public and we want it to be our consumer-led summit meeting,” says Lawson. “We want as many people as possible to come and talk about what folks need now, and come up with some concrete asks that we can bring to the administration.” Lawson says that representatives from the mayor’s office and the administration office have agreed to attend.
For more information about the May 17th speak-out, visit www.fighthivindc.org.