More Than Ever We Need Speak Up as the HIV Community


by David Waggoner

David WaggonerFor the past week or so, as executive orders fly out of the Oval Office at a rapid pace, I’ve realized that now more than ever, we need the Madeleine Albrights, who defied the new administration’s Islamaphobia and anti-immigration/anti-refugee policy by claiming she will register as a Muslim. More than ever we need the Dan Rathers, who has taken to social media to teach us about journalistic integrity and report on facts about Trump. More than ever we need the protestors, the ones who disrupted the Presidential inauguration in the name of HIV and health justice or the millions who marched around the world in the name of women’s equality.

There are many reasons why we need access to our democratic right to speak up for what we believe in, not the least of which is making sure we have the option of affordable healthcare. I hope reason will prevail, as the administration moves toward dismantling the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. We shouldn’t rush to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Wherever you stand on the issue, there are some aspects of Obamacare that help everyone, no matter if you are privately insured or not. For example, the ACA made it unlawful for insurance providers to deny someone coverage based on a pre-existing condition, such as living with HIV. We have an array of lifesaving anti-HIV meds capable of suppressing the virus to undetectable and improving the health of people with HIV. And the consensus is that the quicker we halt the progression of HIV, the better our health outcomes will be. So the last thing we need is an extra hurdle, and an extra layer of stress, as we struggle to engage in care because we cannot find a private insurer to cover us, or cover us without a higher premium, or because Medicaid does not kick in until we have progressed to an AIDS diagnosis.

In this era, where it looks like the Office of National AIDS Policy has been shuttered, we need to rely—more than ever—on the leadership of the AIDS community. At one time, we were the “Office of National AIDS Policy.” We fought for a faster pipeline, so that potentially lifesaving R&D was not stymied by an older, slower system. We protested against the legislation of stigma and hatred, as politicians jockeyed to see who could be the least compassionate. We created our own support networks. We became more literate about AIDS than your average physician. We were engaged in care. Not everyone living with AIDS participated in the movement, but enough of us did.

I think it’s time we champion this collective approach—engaging in community care. More than ever we need to look out for one another. We need to advocate for ourselves, from our doctor’s offices to the Office of the President. This may be unfamiliar territory for some, but let me suggest that the first step of engaging in community care is engaging in ourselves.

In the words of our cover story subject, Siedah Garrett, the Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated singer/songwriter who helped pen “The Man in the Mirror”: “If you want to make the world a better place / take a look at yourself and then make a change.” As A&U’s Dann Dulin finds out, Garrett is a firm believer in compassionate change on the personal and community level. So is Maurice G. Smith, an actor profiled in this issue who is eager to get the word out about how health issues like diabetes and HIV impact African-American communities. Our other interviewees, California legislator Tom Ammiano and the Human Rights Campaign’s Noël Gordon, are both striving to end health disparities and the social and economic drivers that fuel them.

More than ever we cannot remain silent. More than ever we cannot let all that we have built be razed by careless or consciously callous policies. More than ever we need to protect the health we have been safeguarding, whether for a couple of years or for thirty years. More than ever we need to live.

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.