In his second State of the Union Address, President Donald J. Trump called for the eradication of HIV/AID in the United States by the year 2030. However, to the dismay of many LGBTQ men, women, and organizations, the President’s speech was woefully free of specifics regarding a new plan or new strategy.
No force in history has done more to advance the human condition than American freedom. In recent years we have made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach. My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within ten years. Together, we will defeat AIDS in America.
Reaction to the President’s speech from the LGBTQ community, and from the HIV community in particular, was swift and ranged from cautiously hopeful to vehemently disdainful.
In a press release, Michael Ruppal, Executive Director of The AIDS Institute, said, “While we might have policy differences with the President and his Administration, this initiative, if properly implemented and resourced, can go down in history as one of the most significant achievements of his Presidency. We look forward to learning more details of his plan, including its proposed budget, and will work together with the HIV community and state and local governments on its implementation.” Ruppal acknowledged that the first step is to garner bipartisan support for a huge HIV-fighting budget.
Other responses were less optimistic. Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, and a former member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) who resigned, along with five other PACHA members, in 2017 in protest of the Trump-Pence administration’s inaction on HIV/AIDS, who is himself HIV-positive, stated that “Ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. by 2030 is an ambitious and laudable goal, but it needs to be backed up with a substantive plan for addressing the domestic epidemic, and so far the Trump Administration has shown no appetite for developing a real strategy to achieve the goal being announced.” Citing the President’s dissolving PACHA, his closing of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, his grabbing funds from the Ryan White CARE Act to pay for the costs of detaining immigrants on our southern border, and his nomination of William Barr as Attorney General—who, Schoettes reminds us, once defended “the world’s first and only detention camp for refugees with HIV”—Schoettes asserts, “This pledge is nothing more than an empty gesture following a series of actions that have ignored the needs of the communities most affected by HIV. We need action, not just words, to solve the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.”
The International AIDS Society (IAS) released a statement on the morning of February 6 stating both their optimism and their skepticism. “The International AIDS Society (IAS) welcomes the bold goal set forth in US President Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address to ‘eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years,’” their press release begins; “We applaud this commitment. However, we must also acknowledge that this announcement is inconsistent with the policies and rhetoric that directly attack trans people and the larger LGBTQ community, people who inject drugs, people of colour, refugees, sex workers and women’s rights.”
“Addressing these disparities,” the IAS continued, “will require more than treatment and prevention programmes alone. For the US’s new HIV strategy to succeed, Congress and the US Administration must examine the harmful policies and practices that reinforce stigma and social and gender injustice, including a ban on trans people in the military, and dismantling of public LGBTQ health and protection programmes.”
Kevin Osborne, Executive Director of the IAS, concluded, “This goal can only be achieved by acknowledging and addressing the drivers of HIV—including stigma, discrimination and social inequities that limit access to healthcare.”
Joe Hollendoner, the Chief Executive Officer of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, released a statement on February 6, expressing his doubts about the President’s commitment. “President Trump announced the goal of ending HIV transmissions by 2030 during the State of the Union address,” he wrote. “This vision is certainly achievable with advances like PrEP and U=U, but the Administration’s record casts doubt on the president’s commitment to this goal. The repeated attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, attacks on human rights, promotion of abstinence-based education and opposition to safe injection services has impeded our country’s progress to end HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths. These actions, in addition to dismantling various protections for LGBTQ people and immigrants, erode trust in public health institutions and undermine efforts to provide preventive health care to our communities.”
On the morning after the State of the Union address, the Department of Health and Human Services posted a goal of “reduc[ing] new infections by 75 percent in the next five years and by 90 percent in the next ten years” in the department’s “Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America.” However, the website contains no specific funding requirements or requests that will be made, and no specific programs for eradicating HIV/AIDS, just the self-congratulatory assessment that “Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, we move forward committed to ending the HIV epidemic in America.”
Reporting by Hank Trout