By Tiffany Grimes (Public Interest Policy Scholar, APA)
As we transition into a new Congress and presidential administration, it seems timely to reflect on the work achieved by the Office of National AIDS Policy and their achievements under the Obama Administration. In December, I had the opportunity to attend “Moving Forward with HIV in America: Drawing Strength from Our Past and Empowering Today’s Leaders”, the Office of National AIDS Policy’s final public event during the Obama Administration to help mark World AIDS Day 2016. While I had always dreamed of visiting the inside of the White House, I envisioned my first trip to include visiting the West Wing and meeting President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Yet, I had never imagined visiting the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It was truly an honor to represent APA as a Public Interest Policy Scholar and share space in the South Court Auditorium with so many advocates and impactful leaders working to eradicate HIV/AIDS.
Wise and young leaders who all shared a common goal of working towards an AIDS-Free generation filled the room. Dr. Amy Lansky, the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy for The White House, who also reviewed the National HIV/AIDS strategy, welcomed us: 2016 progress report. George Fistonich, Policy Advisor for the Office of National AIDS Policy, walked us through the past eight years under the Obama Administration to reflect on the advancements that the administration has made in combating HIV/AIDS. There were very few dry eyes in the room, as we recalled the commitment and dedication of President Obama and those under his leadership to people living with HIV and HIV prevention.
The facilitators then held a panel and group discussion titled “Acting Together, Fighting AIDS”. The panel was stacked with key figures in HIV/AIDS advocacy, including Dázon Dixon Diallo from SisterLove in Atlanta, GA. The intersectionality was apparent across the room: so many identities occupying a safe space within the White House. Individuals feeling comfortable to just be themselves and express their concerns, anxieties, challenges, accomplishments, joys, and hopes for the future. There is no way to deny that this was a very special occasion and a very special moment in time.
The conversation was spurred using clips from David France’s 2012 American documentary film about the early years of the AIDS epidemic, How to Survive a Plague.
As we watched scenes from the efforts of ACT UP and TAG, once again, tears started to fall around the room. One attendee described the presence in the room as a “funeral”, as many in the room expressed their anxieties and fears regarding what is to come for HIV/AIDS advocacy and care, in addition to concerns regarding the stability of recent advancements in LGBTQ, women’s, ethnic minority, and disability rights and equality. The audience member reminded us that there is much to celebrate, because we have come so far. It is time for us to rise to the occasion, as the fight and work is not yet over.
The panelists shared their experiences working in HIV advocacy and emphasized the sentiment that it is necessary for us to work together across identities and join forces. They elaborated that supporting each other is more important now than ever and that HIV advocacy goes behind just working towards an HIV-free generation, but also towards equity for all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, citizenship, or ability status. Many reminded us that there have been many challenges in the past, which we have managed to overcome, which is what we will continue to do. Our current priority should be combatting stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and increased efforts to reach those most affected (youth, MSM, women and transgender women of color) in the places most affected (the South). Ms. Diallo highlighted that the face of the epidemic and the geography have changed, thus we must adapt our ways of engagement in activism accordingly.
Panelists and participants highlighted the need to address the shame surrounding HIV in communities of color, which can negatively influence HIV testing and treatment adherence. Ms. Diallo expressed the idea that shame “does not mobilize, it immobilizes” and at the core we are all working to not be “othered” or to be treated differently. Dr. Rich Wolitski, Director of the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, psychologist, and APA member gave inspiring closing remarks to end the panel discussion. Throughout the event, there were so many insightful thoughts and impactful experiences shared, but these words of Ms. Diallo followed me home:
“We are a tribe and this movement has brought us together.”
The HIV movement has brought us together because of our intersecting identities. Therefore, may we come together as one as we continue to “fight-forward” towards health equity and an AIDS-Free generation.
What can you do to advance the fight towards an AIDS-Free generation?
- Get Tested and Get Involved: HIV/AIDS Service Organizations in your area are always in need of assistance (time and/or monetary)
- Stay Informed: Additional information regarding HIV/AIDS:
- Follow Us on Twitter: @APAPublicInt
Tiffany Grimes is a Public Interest Policy Scholar at the American Psychological Association and a fourth year PhD Candidate at The University of Georgia. Her clinical and research interests are primarily focused in health disparities, specifically among people living with HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ individuals, ethnic minorities, and other marginalized populations.