Counting On Us

Counting on Us
by David Waggoner

Only x number of days until the presidential election—ninety-five days, forty-two, twenty-nine, twelve days. The countdown has begun and the time remaining always surprises me. I almost dread arriving at Election Night because I fear nothing will be decided. Mail-in ballots will have to be counted, and another countdown will begin. Who will be the winning candidate at the end of the countdown?

It’s not my place to pick a horse in this race. Both Trump and Biden have their critics and their cheerleaders within the HIV community. If we only look at HIV, it is not so cut and dry who is best, especially on the global stage.

President Trump introduced the Ending the HIV Epidemic, which set a goal of ending HIV transmissions by seventy-five percent by 2025 and ninety percent by 2030. The approach seeks to diagnose all individuals as early as possible post-infection; make possible rapid and effective treatment leading to sustained viral suppression; use prevention tools such as PrEP; and target growing HIV clusters and prevent new HIV infections. The initiative also recognizes the needs of communities at risk, including men who have sex with men and ethnic minority populations.

And yet this initiative seems to be at odds with the Republican National Convention’s platform (2016’s platform was appropriated for 2020), which does not mention HIV/AIDS. However, the platform has a lot to say about healthcare, namely, dismantling the Affordable Care Act and the importance of religious conscience of healthcare providers, which ostensibly restricts healthcare access and limits patients’ rights, especially those individuals who are routinely discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Remember that the Trump administration’s “Domestic Gag Rule” banned all recipients of Title X funding from conducting any type of abortion services, but this funding restriction has collateral damage: HIV-related services will not reach inviduals, especially women, who need them.

The Democrats are much more specific and arguably expansive in their embrace of the healthcare of individuals living with HIV/AIDS. From the 2020 Democratic National Party: “Democrats remain committed to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which disproportionately affects communities of color and the LGBTQ+ community, and will support critical investments under the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund.” The party also affirmed its commitment to LGBTQ+ health, making special mention of HIV/AIDS. The platform reaffirms its commitment to dismantling the current administration’s policies that discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals to ensure the health of community. The platform also states: “Democrats support increased community HIV prevention and testing programs which target Latino, Black, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Native American, and other at-risk communities to address the increases of HIV. Democrats will recommit the federal government to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.” Ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a tall order, and the ambition needs to be backed up by dollars.

Both parties contend that they want to listen to individuals living with HIV/AIDS and involve them in decision-making. Thankfully, we have many grass-roots leaders within the HIV/AIDS community who feel the same way. We are proud to publish in this issue the San Francisco Principles, a clarion call for the needs of HIV long-term survivors to be addressed by organizations and society at large. Created by A&U’s own Hank Trout and other advocates, the San Francisco Principles do what leaders do best—identify a problem and shine a light on solutions. It is up to us as individuals to take notice and empower ourselves in this effort to change healthcare for the good.

In the same way, Raif Derrazi is a leader. As Managing Editor Chael Needle discovered in his cover story interview with the fitness guru, Derrazi believes in educating about HIV via an array of social media platforms so that others have the tools to build a future. Derrazi believes in dialogue as the way forward. “I love facilitating a space for really fantastic, important, relevant conversations,” he says about a town hall for queer black people he cohosted.

Dialogue is at the core of A&U, too, every month. We feature the voices of artists (check out the work of Donald Tarantino in this month’s Gallery; Dann Dulin’s interview with actor Sam Barnett) and writers (John Francis Leonard, Philip F. Clark, Bruce Ward), as well as examine important contributions to the laws that protect our healthcare (Jay Vithalani’s Positive Justice about HCV is a must-read) and to the needs of the Latinx men affected by HIV (Hank Trout’s Access to Care).

We are committed to keeping the exchange of ideas flowing and evolving. It’s what the HIV community has always done—identify problems, propose a course of action and then act. So we can hold our elected leaders accountable, but we can also count on ourselves to help create the best lives possible for all.

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