QUEEROCRACY: We Can End AIDS

Blog | Posted by Megan Mulholland | February 8, 2012 | Comments (2)
Camilo Godoy and Cassidy Gardner at a die-in protest in front of Senator Schumer's office. Click to enlarge

"An AIDS-free generation would be one of the greatest gifts the United States could give to our collective future," Secretary Hilary Clinton proclaimed in her speech at the National Institute of Health in November of 2011. One month after Clinton declared it an official United States policy to work towards an "AIDS-free generation," President Barack Obama announced on World AIDS Day that the U.S. would commit to putting $16 million towards AIDS treatment by 2013.


North Star Fund gave QUEEROCRACY a Grassroots Action grant as part of our Fall 2011 grant cycle. We are the group's first foundation funder.


These were both pivotal moments after a series of small victories (and of course, some failures) for QUEEROCRACY. We have made it one of our many missions over the past year to pressure our government and elected officials to recognize that with their support we truly can end AIDS.

We know from U.S.-funded studies published in The Lancet and other medical journals (also seen printed in The Economist's June 2011 issue) that this commitment to full-funding would not only provide treatment for those 15 million currently in immediate need of AIDS meds, but would also serve as a form of prevention in the spread of the virus. Science has proven that putting HIV positive people on ARV (Anti-Retroviral) treatments prevents new infections. QUEEROCRACY recognized that this information meant that President Obama, the person many of us celebrated in 2008, could be the President to put the world on track to truly ending AIDS--and that we could see it happen.

Working in coalition with Health GAP (the national coordinators of what became the "We Can End AIDS Campaign") and many other organizations, QUEEROCRACY was responsible for mobilizing New Yorkers to hold Obama accountable to the promises he made us during his Presidential election. "Yes We Can," a slogan Obama used widely in his campaign, became the backbone of our own. Yes, we can end AIDS-- and QUEEROCRACY has made it our job to continuously remind Obama of that.

In April of 2011, QUEEROCRACY members were among a small group of activists to interrupt President Obama while he spoke at a fundraising event. Holding a banner that read "Six million people on AIDS meds by 2013" and chanting the same slogan, Obama responded coldly to the series of interruptions as the activists were removed from the event. This chilled response was not uncommon for QUEEROCRACY and was a continued experience for us over the past year. Even so, it remained important to us that we raise our voices and sustain our campaign to show President Obama that the young people who had brought him into the White House were going to continue to hold him accountable to the promises he made us throughout his election.

The following summer, QUEEROCRACY joined Health GAP and others in organizing a series of protests around the kick-off of the G8 Summit meetings where World Leaders would announce their commitments to the fight to end AIDS. The June 8 March to End AIDS was one of many attempts to get a response from Senator Schumer. Every time he and his staff ignored our calls and requests to meet with them about this issue, we protested. Unhappy with the results we were seeing from flooding his phone lines and occupying the public streets outside his Midtown office, QUEEROCRACY and members of ACT UP paid a visit to Schumer's Park Slope home where we staged a luau, demanding that he stop "taking a vacation" from the issue of AIDS. A meeting was scheduled with his staff shortly thereafter. Continuing to feel as though Senator Schumer was failing to represent his New York constituents however, and after his refusal to initiate the "Dear Colleague letter" that we had asked of him, QUEEROCRACY decided to take a fresh approach.

Two members traveled to Fire Island where Senator Gillibrand was speaking to a small group of people. During the Q&A portion of her presentation, QUEEROCRACY "bird-dogged" her by publicly asking whether she supported ending AIDS, informing her of the new science that proves there is in fact an end in sight for the pandemic. Knowing that Gillibrand was unlikely to say she did not support seeing the end of AIDS, particularly given that her audience was largely a demographic that had been directly and devastatingly affected by the pandemic from its first discovery, we also took the publicized opportunity to ask her to do something about it by writing the "Dear Colleague letter" Schumer had denied us. Her response was, "Absolutely," and with the work of QUEEROCRACY and AIDS activists around the country, 18 Senators signed on to the letter which voiced support for President Obama to scale up AIDS-related commitments. We have been told that many large, well-connected Washington D.C. based AIDS advocacy organizations had tried but been unable to get a "Dear Colleague" letter written. QUEEROCRACY was grateful to be the ones to prove, once again, that grassroots activism and direct action can be extremely successful tools.

Over the course of a year, the work of QUEEROCRACY, Health GAP and AIDS activists across the country led to a ground-shifting announcement from Secretary Clinton, and then another from President Obama. Less than one year after dismissing the activists who protested at his Town Hall event, our President was declaring his commitment on behalf of the United States to exactly what we had been demanding.

Our AIDS-related work over the past year has led us on a sometimes discouraging, but always evolving path that we will not stop marching down until we see the end of this pandemic. 2010 was the 30th anniversary of AIDS. We know now that there does not have to be another 30 years and that in 2040 we can, instead, celebrate the end of AIDS. We can end AIDS in our lifetime and QUEEROCRACY is determined to be part of making that happen.

Comments

When I first walked into the room where QUEEROCRACY was meeting, I had the feeling that this group would be the magic bullet, the game changers, to us AIDS activists who had been struggling along for years to win campaigns to improve the lives of people living with HIV around the world. I was right!

They are deeply committed and incredibly daring. The world is a better place because of this group. Thanks North Star peeps for supporting them.

I attended the Novafrtis demo in Cambrige the other day. I manage a resienttial program for previously homeless people with HIV in Dorchester, Ma. so it was great to find people active on this issue.As bad as it is that thousands in the US are on ADAP waiting lists, its nothing compared to the global crisis. Let's keep up the work on Novartis!efend generics!

Gerry Scoppettuolo
ACT UP/Nashville 1988-1992

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