LGBTQ South Florida

As gay black men face HIV crisis, advocate says ‘No choice but Hillary Clinton’

Noël Gordon, Human Rights Campaign’s senior program specialist for HIV Prevention and Health Equity.
Noël Gordon, Human Rights Campaign’s senior program specialist for HIV Prevention and Health Equity. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Much has been written about the 2016 presidential election, including the fact that young people like me are still deciding where to throw our support. For me, there is no choice but Hillary Clinton. She is the only candidate in this race with a plan to address one of the most pressing issues on my mind and the minds of many other Americans, especially those of color: HIV.

Last week, I traveled to Hollywood to attend the 20th annual US Conference on AIDS. The stakes there, as they are in this election, could not have been clearer. If current trends continue, one in two black men who has sex with men (MSM) will contract HIV in our lifetime. The rate for Latino MSM is one in four. I shudder to think what the rate would be for young, transgender women who are also disproportionately affected by HIV.

This shouldn’t be happening in today’s America, where we’ve made great strides in HIV prevention, treatment, and care. And yet, it is — largely because of structural barriers including stigma, discrimination, and poverty. The situation is especially dire in the state of Florida, which is home to at least five of the top 20 cities with the highest rates of HIV transmission.

The conference occurred just two months after I had an opportunity to join with a group of HIV and AIDS activists to meet with Hillary Clinton to discuss how we move forward together to create an AIDS-free generation. At the conference last week, there was an undercurrent of unease about the upcoming election. While Hillary Clinton sent a surrogate, Dr. Eric Goosby, to address the thousands of attendees gathered, Donald Trump sent no one. Not surprisingly, Trump’s chief campaign surrogate — running mate Mike Pence — did not attend. He has a long history of standing against HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and research efforts.

Pence vowed to oppose federal funding for HIV and AIDS prevention programs as a member of Congress unless it was offset with cuts to programs that he claimed “celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” Pence instead wanted funding for so-called “conversion therapy” programs that have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization as dangerous and not supported by science.

And as governor of Indiana, Pence again put his hateful ideology first. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this year highlighted how the HIV outbreak that occurred in on Mike Pence’s watch in rural Indiana could have been prevented. The study noted that HIV testing in Scott County, Indiana, was no longer available after a Planned Parenthood Clinic was closed, and that Pence dragged his feet on needle exchange programs that are a proven form of prevention.

Trump’s team has proposed no policy on HIV and AIDS. His policy staff notoriously abandoned his campaign this summer after Trump refused to pay them. What’s more troubling than Trump’s own lack of a formal policy is that he put Mike Pence on the ticket.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has offered the most robust LGBTQ equality agenda of anyone who has run for president. Just this summer Clinton released a detailed plan to fight the HIV and AIDS epidemic both in the U.S. and abroad and to create an AIDS-free generation once and for all. As president, she would increase access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and other HIV prevention methods, fight to remove barriers to accessing care, protect the Ryan White HIV and AIDS program, and work to end stigma and discrimination against people living with and affected by HIV.

Last week’s 20th annual U.S. Conference on AIDS in Hollywood was a reminder that all the gains the LGBTQ community has fought for over the last eight years are on the line in November — including the progress we have made on HIV and AIDS. Donald Trump and Mike Pence could have taken the time at this event to develop and release a plan of their own. They didn’t. That’s why “I’m with Her.”

Noël Gordon joined the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in 2013, lives in Washington, D.C., and currently serves as senior program specialist for HIV Prevention and Health Equity. HRC, the nation’s largest LGBTQ political group, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in January 2016.