Friday, July 12, 2013

US News: Gay Inc Drops AIDS for Marriage, Military & Money?

To be honest, I couldn't remember the last time HRC or Gay Inc had devoted significant resources to anything benefiting people with AIDS or addressed the need for more education about HIV prevention strategies such as pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis, when reporter Elizabeth Flock asked for my opinion on these issues.

Flock contacted me for a story she was writing for U.S. News and World Report pivoting off my friend and ACT UP/New York colleague Peter Staley's column for the Washington Post berating Gay Inc for overlooking HIV concerns.

Her piece appeared last week and I'm pleased to be part of her excellent story, because she brings to light how HRC didn't list AIDS among its top priorities and neither NGLTF nor GLAAD took the time to call Flock to explain whatever it is they may be doing about gay men and HIV:

It was only fitting that the logo of the Human Rights Campaign would become the symbol of the two gay marriage wins at the Supreme Court [in late June] – on California's same-sex marriage ban, and on federal benefits for gay couples. HRC, the largest LGBT group in the country, had thrown an enormous amount of resources behind the fight for gay marriage. Its "Millions for Marriage" campaign had, quite literally, raised millions.

But while the HRC has racked up win after win on marriage, it may be quietly losing another, harder battle, a battle some say it hasn't fought very hard to win: the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In December 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released startling new data that showed HIV was still plaguing the gay community [...]

The Kaiser Health Foundation recently described the problem of HIV in the city of Washington, where the HRC and many other big LGBT groups are headquartered, as "as epidemic on par with some developing nations."

"Gay and bisexual men remain at the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic," says Jonathan Mermin, the director of the CDC's division of HIV/AIDS prevention. "But HIV is not always at the top of the list of priorities for LGBT organizations."

If Kaiser talks about HIV in Washington, DC, and the deplorable rates of transmissions and infections, the matter is overwhelmingly about gay and bisexual black men and their heathcare needs. Just more reasons why gay advocacy groups need to devote resources to AIDS. What is HRC concerned with?

When HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz lists off the priorities for the organization, the list is long: gay marriage, workplace nondiscrimination protections, safe schools, corporate support and benefits for employees, fostering positive places of worship. He doesn't name HIV/AIDS.

Choosing priorities, Cole-Schwartz says, is a "balancing act" and the issue of HIV/AIDS is one he says "thankfully we haven't had to deal with too much." Most of HRC's work on the disease, he says, is done through partnerships or coalitions.

In other words, HRC does not take the lead on HIV disease. I'm unable to recall the organization taking on any queer related healthcare needs, outside of the context of marriage. Annual rankings of gay-friendly hospitals and clinics does not address the problems of many LGBT persons who either have no insurance or are under-insured.

It's not just the HRC. HIV/AIDS isn't a top priority for any of the three major LGBT groups in the U.S.: not the HRC, or the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), or the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) – who together are somewhat pejoratively known as "Gay Inc."

"'Gay Inc.' is interested in military, marriage, and money," says Michael Petrelis, a gay and AIDS activist, in reference to the campaigns against the military policy of "don't ask, don't tell," which was overturned in 2010, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which was ruled unconstitutional last week. "But for the millions of gay people who don't want to be soldiers, who don't want to get married, where's the advocacy?" he says.

Peter Staley, a gay activist who founded the Treatment Action Group, a HIV/AIDS activist organization, also uses the term."The recent rise of HIV/AIDS ... is huge and it's not talked about because 'Gay Inc.' says nothing about it," he says.
In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, Staley urged 'Gay Inc.' to allocate 10 percent of its budget to fighting HIV. He estimates the groups currently spend less than 1 percent, a number HRC said it couldn't confirm or deny because it doesn't break down its spending by issue type, while GLAAD and NGLTF didn't respond to request for comment. 

It always surprises me when such groups with multimillion dollar budgets and communications departments can't or won't talk to reporters, as in this situation. All Gay Inc organizations need to be reminded AIDS is not over, people living with HIV/AIDS face terrible stigma and criminalization has to be addressed, and that lots of LGBT people cannot access the healthcare system because of economic disparities.

Kudos to Flock for this article. Be sure to read the entire piece.

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