July 23, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
AIDS 2012: HIV/AIDS activists heckle Gray at Global Village
Gay News, Washington Blade, HIV/AIDS

Protesters disrupt Mayor Vincent Gray’s Global Village speech (Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than a dozen HIV/AIDS activists on Monday heckled Mayor Vincent Gray as he spoke at the International AIDS Conference’s Global Village.

Housing Works members chanted “numbers don’t lie, politicians do” and other slogans as he took the stage inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. They repeatedly accused Gray of not doing enough to combat the city’s HIV/AIDS epidemic as he tried to speak.

“We have the leadership of our health department here and we will be happy to talk with you all about and share with you the plan we have,” said Gray, who specifically pointed out Dr. Gregory Pappas of the Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration to the protesters. “We will be happy to discuss that with you. We’ll share documents with you.”

The mayor noted that no baby has been born with HIV in D.C. since 2009. Gray also referenced the campaign that city officials unveiled last month that encourages testing among D.C.’s 30,000 employees — he gets tested annually and publicly announces the results.

“I am personally committed finding a cure to this disease,” said Gray. “We know that treatment is prevention.”

The DOH’s latest epidemiological report indicates that 2.7 percent of D.C. residents were living with HIV at the end of 2010. New diagnoses dropped 36 percent among white Washingtonians and 24 percent among the city’s black residents between 2006 and 2010.

Gray reiterated during his speech at the AIDS Memorial Quilt’s opening ceremony on the National Mall on Sunday that the city has distributed more than five million male and female condoms in 2011. He has also credited D.C.’s needle exchange program for the 72 percent drop in HIV rates among intravenous drug users between 2007 and 2010.

“Housing was not on that list,” said Keith Holder of Southeast Washington, who has been HIV-positive since 1985. He told the Blade that he has been on a waiting list for housing for those with the virus since 2001. “Without housing, you’re not going to survive.”

Pappas noted that most of the 1,000 people with HIV who have requested housing support from the city currently live with family and friends. Gray has established an interagency task force to address the issue, but Pappas acknowledged to the Blade that housing for Washingtonians with HIV remains a major problem.

“Most large American cities experience serious housing problems and D.C. is working with HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) to seek funding,” he said.

In addition to housing for people with HIV, D.C. resident Larry Bryant questioned the city’s overall response to the epidemic. He acknowledged the city’s increased testing rates and improved data collection. Bryant stressed, however, that he feels the Gray administration has not done enough to tackle socio-economic and other underlying issues that further contribute to the epidemic’s impact among disproportionately affected communities.

“We’re not looking at prevention in a more comprehensive way,” said Bryant, who has lived with HIV for more than 20 years. “We’re not looking at socio-economic factors that contribute to the epidemic and the most recent surveillance numbers prove that fact both among women, poor women, people of color and heterosexual couples as well.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

2 Comments
  • Peter Rosenstein

    Interesting to heckle the Mayor who has done more to combat this epidemic than the previous two Mayors. This Mayor is committed to this and has been since the 80s. Yes the City needs to do more as do all cities and the federal government- and yes the clergy need to do more -and yes private citizens need to do more -and yes people also need to take more responsibility for their own health and education to avoid getting HIV. It is only if everyone works together that we will conquer this scourge.

  • @ Rosenstein: you forgot to add *the media* needs to do more as well to develop some helpful and creative conversations about how to encourage the general public to take better care of personal health and spiritual needs and hold electeds, agency officials, and clergy leader’s feet to the fire about addressing the epidemic. But that doesn’t make sexy headlines and would require that reporters work harder.

    “More than a dozen [IGNORANT, MISINFORMED, MISGUIDED] HIV/AIDS activists on Monday heckled Mayor Vincent Gray as he spoke at the International AIDS Conference’s Global Village. …”

    First rule of being an effective activist is:
    GET YOUR FACTS AND INFORMATION *STRAIGHT* BEFORE OPENING MOUTH PUTTING FOOT IN IT.

    When foolish people denigrate their allies — indeed, greater more effective and knowledgeable HIV/AIDS pioneers like Gray — those activists do more to harm the cause than anyone else. This cause needs smart people willing and able to work together, not a bunch of screeching idiots waving signs.

    Ironically, though the local infection rates rival those of third-world rural communities, DC residents have greater access to information, advice, care givers and treatment than most people on the planet. Yet too many of those suffering from HIV/AIDS — gay men, African and Latino men and women — refuse to take the regime of medicine that is proven to keep them healthy and those yet to be infected refuse to practice safe — enjoyable — sex. It’s not that hard really. What’s so sexy about sex and drug habits that rob people of their health, esteem, fitness, joy and make life more difficult than it is?

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