Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Year of no More Excuses

Death concentrates the mind, on things that matter and those that don’t. It’s one of the reasons ACT-UP was so effective in the early 1990’s in forcing the world to pay attention to AIDS: death from the disease was all around us.

In the week before Christmas, 2007, my mother died of a brain tumor. At 92, she had lived a life without excuses, tackling every challenge as it arose. Born with Polio during the epidemic of 1915/1916 in NYC, my mother fought discrimination against the disabled from her very earliest years. Quarantined from using NYC’s public swimming pools as a little girl over public hysteria that other children would “catch” the polio virus from her, my mother was sent to a “crippled children’s home,” the 1920’s vernacular for a rehab center.

Seventy-five years later, one candidate for President of the United StatesMike Huckabee—talks about isolating people with AIDS. HIV Positive individuals are denied permanent immigrant status in the United States, unless given an HIV waiver—a virtually impossible hurdle for gays and lesbians since one of the key conditions for the waiver is a legally recognizable marriage in the U.S. Billions of dollars of U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS programs worldwide is denied to countries that don’t pledge to use the monies for abstinence –only campaigns. Excuses, excuses, excuses instead of compassion, common sense, and equality. My mother had no patience for such drivel; she knew what a struggle it was to just live life, every single day. She was a practical, Italian woman who had no patience for ideological obstacles to reality.

For years, one of the biggest—and deadliest—public policy excuses involved needle-exchange programs to prevent HIV infection. Give a junkie a clean needle, the argument went, and you’ll just create more junkies. Even Bill Clinton, who’s Clinton Foundation is now doing much good work in fighting HIV/AIDS, admitted that one of the worst decisions of his as President was when he failed to push for a nationwide needle-exchange program over the narrow-minded opposition of his own drug czar and others, despite clear evidence that needle exchange programs saved people from HIV infection.

Now the Bush Administration has finally run out of excuses, after religiously gutting funding for HIV prevention in the U.S., and permitting tens of thousands of new HIV infections to happen to IV drug users who shared dirty needles or to teenagers taught abstinence-only who stopped abstaining. For the first time in its long retreat from the reality of AIDS in America, the Bush Administration passed a new spending package, that—at long last—permits Washington, D.C—a city whose black population is on the verge of extinction from the AIDS epidemic—to use a needle-exchange program to fight HIV infections.

Death concentrates the mind, and reality always erases excuses that were just another word for lies.

No comments: