July 23, 2012 at 10:19 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Pelosi defends Obama’s HIV/AIDS record
Gay News, Washington Blade, HIV/AIDS

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Blade Photo by Michael Key)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Saturday defended President Obama’s response to HIV/AIDS.

“The president has been great,” she told the Blade as she arrived at the American Foundation for AIDS Research’s awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center. “He’s built on everything that has gone before in terms of prevention, care and research. He has been very substantial in terms of the kind of money to put toward this, and that’s what it takes as well as respect for the people who have been affected by it, and that’s important too.”

Pelosi’s comments came a day after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released $80 million to eliminate AIDS Drug Assistance Program waiting lists.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby, former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Laura Bush are among those scheduled to speak at the International AIDS Conference this week at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Obama addressed delegates in a short video message as part of what a White House press release described as “continuing his personal commitment engagement on the issue.”

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein described the president’s absence from the conference to the Blade as “a kick in the teeth” to the more than 20,000 delegates who will attend the five-day gathering.

Pelosi again defended the White House’s response to HIV/AIDS.

“I’m proud of the president for what he has done, as I was proud of President Bush for what he did,” she told the Blade.

The California Democrat also reflected upon the epidemic’s early impact as she spoke with reporters at the Kennedy Center.

“In the early 80s in San Francisco we learned that there was something occurring,” said Pelosi, referring to University of California-San Francisco doctors and others who responded to some of the country’s first cases of what became known as AIDS. “It was almost like something from the middle ages, symptoms that were so horrifying. It was something that took a terrible toll. We were going — some of us — to two funerals a day for our loved ones and friends. And we had to deal with not only the challenge medically and scientifically, but the discrimination and the denial that went with it.”

Pelosi’s first speech on the floor of the House of Representatives after she arrived on Capitol Hill in 1987 was about AIDS. She also helped secure the necessary permits from the National Parks Service to show the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall later that year – she also sewed a patch for the flower girl in her wedding who lost her battle to the virus.

“Never did I think then that 25 years later there would still not have a cure, but the advances in science and technology that helps the science of such that we have more reason to be hopeful now,” said Pelosi.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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