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Resist: AIDSWatch draws hundreds; Pride plans underway

by Liz Highleyman

AIDSWatch's Ace Robinson
AIDSWatch's Ace Robinson  

Health care largely dominated advocates' attention during the past week as the latest Republican attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed and the Trump administration proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS funding.

In New York City Thursday (March 30), activists are holding a march and rally to commemorate the 30th anniversary of ACT UP. ACT UP/NY held its first action on March 24, 1987, a die-in on Wall Street to protest the high price of AZT (then the sole approved AIDS drug) and discrimination against people with AIDS. Chapters soon sprang up across the country, including in San Francisco.

The latest White House budget details released include a $1.23 billion reduction for the National Institutes of Health, which provides funding for HIV vaccine and cure research.

The administration also proposed $50 million in domestic cuts for "less effective HIV research and prevention activities" and a decrease of nearly $300 million for global HIV/AIDS support through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, according to various news sources. An earlier budget outline had led some advocates to hope that PEPFAR would be spared.

"Research, education, testing, and treatment are how we are going to get to zero new [HIV] infections," GLAAD's director of programs Ross Murray said on Twitter. "The Trump budget will set us back."

As news of the latest cuts spread, more than 600 activists gathered in Washington, D.C., March 27-28 for AIDSWatch, an annual advocacy event where people with HIV, staff of AIDS service organizations, and other allies visit members of Congress to demand support for HIV/AIDS programs. This year's lobby day was one of the largest ever and organizers had to cap participation.

"This year's AIDSWatch was sold out for one reason and one reason only," Ace Robinson, executive director of Dignity Health's Comprehensive AIDS Resource and Education program in Long Beach, told the Bay Area Reporter. "We are on the precipice of ending AIDS in America and the sum total of [Donald Trump's] and [House Speaker Paul] Ryan's agendas will not only undo our progress, but will also bring sickness and death back to our communities again. It does not get any deeper than this: We want to live."

On March 24, Ryan (R-Wisconsin) announced that the Republicans' proposed American Health Care Act did not have enough votes to pass, due to combined opposition from House Democrats, moderate Republicans, and conservative Republicans who said the plan did not go far enough in dismantling Obamacare.

The day before the vote 24 progressive activists – including LGBT health advocates – were arrested in front of the White House, representing the 24 million people the Congressional Budget Office estimated would lose their health insurance under the Republican plan.

The D.C. rally and civil disobedience were part of a National Day of Action coordinated by Health Care for America Now. Protests took place in more than 40 cities, according to a HCAN press release. Although there were no large actions in the Bay Area, protesters in Modesto held a die-in outside the district office of Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock).


Pride plans in the works

Local activists are making plans to participate in several upcoming coordinated actions including a Tax March on April 15 to demand that Trump release his tax returns, and "general strike" with large-scale protests on May 1, International Workers Day.

Further ahead, LGBT activists across the country are discussing plans to make this year's Pride events less of a party and more of a protest.

As previously reported, after the massive Women's March in D.C. and sister marches across the country in January, a call went out for LGBT people to converge in Washington Sunday, June 11, the scheduled date of that city's Pride event, making it a national protest march.

Los Angeles organizers subsequently announced that the city's June 11 Pride event this year would be a "human rights march instead of a parade," according to the Christopher Street West website.

Activists in cities that traditionally hold their Pride events later in June, including San Francisco and New York, are also calling for more resistance.

Heritage of Pride, the group that puts on New York's Pride event, has agreed to place activist groups, including ACT UP and Rise and Resist, near the front of the June 25 parade, after the women's motorcycle contingent and grand marshals, according to a report in Gay City News.

Activists in San Francisco have called for a similar shift in the tone of the June 25 Pride event.

"There's a growing consensus throughout the country that the Pride celebrations this year must be much more political and much more focused on resistance to Trump's agenda of hatred and division," longtime activist Cleve Jones told the B.A.R. Jones added that he has met with representatives from San Francisco Pride and "it's my sense that they fully understand the urgency and are willing to work with people who want to make it more political."

To date, George Ridgely, executive director of the San Francisco LGBT Celebration Committee, has not responded to the B.A.R.'s requests for comment, and evolving plans will be covered in more depth in future issues.



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