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Hillary’s Arkansas HIV history = Nancy Reagan’s silence

A closer look at first lady’s record in early days of epidemic

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Hillary Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade
Hillary Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade, Hillary Clinton AIDS

Hillary Clinton recently criticized HIV disclosure laws, but she was silent when her husband signed one. (Photo by Gino Santa Maria; courtesy Bigstock)

It cannot be said that during her nine years as first lady of Arkansas that Hillary Clinton started a local conversation about AIDS — her advocacy had such a low-key volume that no one heard it.

Now that the dust-up over her grossly uninformed statement about Nancy Reagan starting a national discussion about AIDS has subsided, it’s relevant to examine her HIV record, such as it is, from her Little Rock years.

Remarkably, during the 1980s when their husbands held power and the AIDS epidemic created crises at every level of government, as thousands of gay men and others suffered and died, neither first lady left a paper trail of actions or statements addressing the grief, tremendous fear and stigma we lived with.

As a member of the ACT UP/Presidential Project from late 1991 to the November 1992 election, I kept thick files on Gov. Bill Clinton’s campaign and reporting on his HIV record. Nothing in my archive includes any reference to Hillary’s HIV record and online searches fail to locate any relevant source materials.

If she took action or spoke up prior to campaigning against George H. W. Bush, it went unreported or duly noted.

Hillary held no elective office while her husband served as governor but she was no shrinking violet when it came to injecting herself into public policy matters and state government, and fighting for causes she believed in.

In 1977, then-attorney general Bill Clinton endorsed modernization of the state’s homosexual and bestial anti-sodomy statute and as governor made no public comments calling for repeal of the law. Same goes for Hillary. When in 1991 courageous local Democratic politician Vic Snyder, who eventually served as a representative in Congress, attempted to erase the law from the books, neither Clinton offered him support.

Newspaper accounts from 1991 offer details on how police entrapped men cruising for sex at highway rest stops and other locations, and after they were arrested and charged under the sodomy law, their names and home addresses were published for all to read.

Arkansas’s sodomy statue was in effect until the Supreme Court struck down such laws across the land, but while it was on the books it was vigorously used by prosecutors against LGBT persons.

Compounding the stigma and fear of gays and our sexual relations, and the added burden of HIV transmission stemming from outrageous neglect of prevention and education programs, Gov. Clinton in November 1989 signed one of the worst criminal transmission laws in the nation.

The law made it a Class A felony for a poz person to have penetrative sex with another person without first disclosing their HIV status. If convicted, sentences required no less than six years and a maximum of 30 years in prison.

This law is still on the books and an unknown number of persons convicted under it currently are inmates in penitentiaries serving time.

Public records obtained from Arkansas prosecutors by advocates affiliated with Sero, a nonprofit of HIV poz folks and allies fighting stigma and injustice, while limited in scope because several prosecutors refused to release responsive records citing state sunshine law allowing officials to deny access to public records if the requester lives out of state.

The Sero organization is based in Pennsylvania.

Of caseloads made public for about a dozen persons, the average sentence meted out was 10 years and three people got 20 years while only one received six years in prison. I believe these cases represent a mere fraction of all convictions in Arkansas.

After extensive searching, I’ve come across nothing showing Hillary opposed the HIV criminalization law before her husband signed it or after going into effect.

Over the course of their final nine years of holding the reins of power in Little Rock and of widespread HIV and sodomy criminal enforcement, Hillary expended no political capital on us or our concerns.

Just how missing-in-action on AIDS were the Clintons up to September 1990?

An extended editorial at the time in Little Rock’s alternative weekly The Spectrum headlined “Time For An AIDS Policy” completely omits the Clintons, indicating they weren’t known for doing the right thing on HIV matters.

It noted: “The incidence of reported AIDS in Arkansas is up 158 percent over last year … by the end of September, there will be 147 cases on the books as compared to 57 this same time last year. … The Department of Health Services just completely cut Medicaid benefits to 10 of 13 Arkansans who take AZT … The Arkansas Department of Corrections simply failed to reapply for its grants that paid for a full-time AIDS education coordinator … Blacks in Arkansas have an alarmingly disproportionate incidence of AIDS; about 23 percent of AIDS cases are among blacks who make up 16.3 percent of the population.”

With primaries underway, the Clinton for President Committee in early March 1992 issued a one-page position paper on AIDS that is noteworthy because it lacks any compelling achievement on his part directly assisting people with AIDS or those at-risk.

It reads: “As chairman of the National Governor’s Association, he formed the first working group of governors to develop a policy on AIDS … In 1986, under Governor Clinton’s leadership, the Arkansas State Board of Education adoption a resolution calling for the ‘development of AIDS educations skills … to be integrated into the Health Education Course Content Guide’. “

Granted, a panel and a resolution connected to Bill during the first five years of the plague are something, they’re exceedingly underwhelming and pitiful and force me to wonder where was Hillary and did she do a damn thing about HIV in Little Rock?

In her apology after her erroneous Nancy Reagan comment generated pain, Hillary wrote:

“I’ve always tried to do my part in the fight against this disease, and the stigma and pain that accompanies it. At the 1992 Democratic National Convention, when my husband accepted the nomination for president, we marked a break with the past by having two HIV-positive speakers — the first time that ever happened at a national convention.”

Echoes of Bill’s 1992 campaign AIDS position paper — long on platitudes, short on substance. Given how abysmal her HIV Arkansas record is, Hillary’s apology omitting anything she may have done prior to the presidential campaign is quite telling.

A four-page policy assessment paper from the Arkansas Gay and Lesbian Task Force in February 1992 to the Human Rights Campaign about the state’s AIDS legislation and response to the epidemic offers more on the issue.

On top of the bad laws, sodomy arrests and prosecutions and lack of initiative from the Clintons, the task force shed light regarding no state funds appropriated for AIDS: “[O]nly federal money was spent here until 1991 [when three HIV educators for community-based organizations for the entire state were hired] . . . $30,000 in 1992 was money to be used for testing and counseling that the federal government quit sending and it came from the Governor’s Emergency Release Fund.”

Most galling, Hillary said: “We should call on states to reform outdated and stigmatizing HIV criminalization laws.”

If only Bill hadn’t signed Arkansas’s criminalization law she would have one less state to call on to amend, maybe even repeal, these lock-’em-up laws.

What’s needed now, just as we’ve weighed Mrs. Reagan’s HIV resume, is to apply the same degree of accountability to Mrs. Clinton especially during her Little Rock years.

Michael Petrelis is a longtime San Francisco-based blogger focused on AIDS and LGBT issues.

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Fathers should speak to kids about drugs, alcohol

Highlight dangers of illicit substances, how to manage peer pressure

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What does it take to be a good father? While there are many answers, it generally involves showing up daily, playing an essential role in their life, being there for them, and loving them unconditionally. 

Fathers are there to provide abundant love and support. Most fathers know the sacrifice it takes to ensure their children are loved and cared for. A father is always there for their kids, offering guidance, support, and education. The greatest joy for any father is seeing their children thrive, do well in life, and be healthy. 

However, things can get derailed in life, and teens and young adults take risks, such as experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Fathers have a responsibility to speak to their kids about drugs and alcohol and help them understand the risks and consequences. 

Data has shown that more than half of LGBTQ youth used alcohol in the last year, and more than one in three LGBTQ youth used marijuana in the previous year. Approximately 11% of LGBTQ youth reported regular use (defined as daily or weekly use) of both alcohol and marijuana.

Illegal drugs today are more readily available than ever before. According to the DEA, drug traffickers have turned smartphones into a one-stop shop to market, sell, buy, and deliver deadly fake prescription pills and other drugs. Amid this ever-changing age of social media influence, kids, teens, and young adults are easily influenced.  

Drug traffickers advertise on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. The posts are promptly posted and removed with code words and emojis used to market and sell illicit drugs. Unfortunately, digital media provides an increased opportunity for both marketing and social transmission of risk products and behaviors. 

Fathers are responsible for protecting and preparing our children for the world. Drug education is essential. Take the time to speak to your kids about the dangers of illicit substances, how to avoid and manage peer pressure, and what to look for. Be prepared to share personal experiences and help them understand that some choices have consequences. 

However, it can be challenging to see our kids struggle with things in life, and as fathers, we can also face our own difficulties, making it more difficult to help our children. The responsibility of raising children can be a lot; there are many challenges along the way, and the pressure of being a good influence can get the best of us. 

All of this makes it vital not to ignore our mental health; children, especially younger kids, mimic what they see. How we cope with frustration, anger, sadness, or isolation impacts our children in several ways. 

Our actions have consequences. Children see how we handle every situation, and while no father is perfect, we must be conscious of the fact they are impressionable when they are young. They look up to us, mimic our actions, and see when we are doing well in life mentally.   

The key for fathers caring for children is to take the time to care for themselves. However, if you are struggling, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Taking care of your mental health is the same as taking care of your physical health; it is an integral part of your well-being and contributes to you being the best father you can be.

Nickolaus Hayes is a healthcare professional in the field of substance use and addiction recovery and is part of the editorial team at DRS. His primary focus is spreading awareness by educating individuals on the topics surrounding substance use.

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In debate, Biden must stay on offense

President needs more lines like ‘I am running against a 6-year-old’

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On June 27, President Joe Biden will debate the man he has called a six-year-old. A great line, and he needs a few more like that. Unless there is a clear stumble by either candidate, we know what they will say. Trump will call Biden ‘sleepy Joe,’ among other names. But the reality is, people are used to it. They are not as used to Biden returning the favor. And Biden, aside from referring to Trump as a convicted felon, needs some lines that will make headlines the next day. Something with a little humor in it, but still making a strong point. 

Trump is scary. The recent column in the Washington Post on how Russ Vought, the former president’s budget director, is laying the groundwork for a broad expansion of presidential powers, is truly frightening. Now if it were me, I would be able to use my usual litany of words when referring to Trump: racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic pig, found liable for sexual assault, and convicted felon. I may even go as far as suggesting society replace the word felon with “Trump.” People at trials could be convicted of 34 “Trumps.” But Biden can’t really use that. Maybe Biden can do something like look him in the eye and say, “You can’t really believe all the BS you keep spouting!” Then add, “The world is a complicated place, and even most six-year-olds seem to have a better understanding and grasp of it than you do.” 

Then there is the focus on the very serious part of the debate. The discussion of issues including the economy, abortion, contraception, and foreign policy. Reminding people, it was Trump who killed the immigration bill in Congress, telling energy billionaires if they raise him a billion dollars, in essence bribe him, they can “drill baby drill.” The president needs to speak to African Americans, Latinos, women, and the young. He needs to tell each of those groups what will happen if the six-year-old he is running against, were to become president again. 

Then he needs to look directly into the camera and say to the audience at home, “It isn’t only Trump you need to fear, it is the people he will surround himself with. His sycophants and cult, who will let him get revenge on anyone who says a word against him.” You can count on the fact it will be much worse than the last time around when he tried to stage a coup, because no decent person will work for him.

The first debate will take place 18 weeks before the Nov. 5 election. So much can change between then and the election. Remember when we talked about an October surprise? In today’s world there could be July, August, and September surprises as well. Between now and election day we will be treated to an overload of polling, most of it wrong. We will read hundreds of headlines, many of them clickbait. If you watch TV you will get to listen to hundreds of talking heads, many knowing no more than you. The difference being, they are being paid to spout off on the election, giving not facts, but their opinions. 

It seems every four years we hear this could be the most important, the most crucial, election of our lifetime. Well, this time those who say it just may be telling the truth. One candidate, convicted of 34 “Trumps,” is telling you he will be a dictator, and using Hitler’s words. He has the likes of Russ Voight advising him, and openly says he will seek revenge. Nothing could be more frightening. He is telling the young he doesn’t care about climate change, and telling the poor their programs will be cut because he will cut taxes for the rich.  

He calls our soldiers, those who sacrificed their lives and died in wars, “suckers and losers.” He called John McCain “a war hero because he was captured,” saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” This frightening, sick man, with the world view of a warped six-year-old, will lead the United States if we aren’t willing to stand up to him, and his MAGA cult. Yes, I am afraid! And you should be too! If you are a woman, a minority, a member of the LGBTQ community, or just poor, be scared, be very afraid! If Trump and his cult win, you will lose what little you think you now have.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Why you should celebrate pride with a musical about GenderCannibalism?

Rose: You Are What You Eat, through June 23 at Woolly Mammoth.

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Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth.

Because when I came out as trans my aunt told me it was because I ate my twin in the womb…and that’s what the show is about

Because…remember that time when you decided to dress like exactly like your older sister; or you stole your mothers’ makeup or your brother’s tie; or you decided to dress up like Katherine Hepburn for halloween when you were (i dunno) 10; or you started to look eerily like your lover…..that’s all gender cannibalism

Because because because because because….” because if you know that song this was made for you…and if you don’t…it’s okay, we’ll work on it

Because you can probably find a cute date at the show irl instead of just swiping in your phone…think of theater as an in person dating app without as much drunkenness as the bar

Because maybe that cute date is me

Because you can sing along to music written by a bunch of queers from Philly and D.C. 

Because we are all so hungry and so so thirsty 

Because I guarantee you will leave feeling fed

Because cannibalism puns are tasty

Because it’s a comedy

Because there are pay-what-you-can tickets

Because it plays all of June

Because we are consuming gender all the time but rarely watching what and how we eat it 

Because it’s an anti-assimilationist endeavor: the corporations can’t co-opt “gender cannibalism” for pride month (but there is merchandise available at the show…)

Because it’s only 75 minutes

Because I dance around in tighty whities with socks on my hands

Because there is a free clothing swap and treats in the gallery next to the show

Because why not?

Because you will be cast as my Mother, and that’s the role of a lifetime (or at least my lifetime)

Because you won’t know what will happen; you can’t pause or rewind the show; you will be taking a risk; you will find it’s more than just entertainment; you will feel me talking right to you

Because I’ve been writing this show for 34 years and am finally ready to share it with you

Because I’ll be in the lobby afterwards to say hi, and receive hugs, stories, and phone numbers 

Because I made this piece for you, my dear deviants, trans folx, genderful ones and for the people that care for us. It is a good laugh and a good cry and meant as a gift, a way to end your day feeling loved, nourished and worthy

Because don’t you want to be nourished and reminded that you are loved and worthy? 

And frankly because art needs you to survive and you need art to thrive

Because I took the time to write this letter to you and you took the time to read it, and neither you nor I want to waste that investment

Because you won’t want to miss it

Get tickets to Rose: You Are What You Eat, playing through June 23rd.

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