Bernie Sanders has cancelled a meeting with HIV advocates his campaign affirmed days before the crucial New York Democratic primary he would attend, according to the activists who sought to arrange the meeting.
The 30-minute meeting between Sanders and HIV advocates was set for May 13 in Indianapolis. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton also agreed to meet the activists, who say they’re are still on track to meet with her Thursday for one hour in New York City.
Hilary McQuie, director of U.S. policy and grassroots mobilization for the HIV/AIDS group Health GAP, told the Blade the Sanders campaign cancelled the meeting without explanation.
“He did cancel — no reason given and they have not rescheduled,” McQuie said. “We feel a bit burned by the bern, and hope they will answer our emails now.”
Peter Staley, a New York-based gay rights and HIV advocate, told the Blade HIV advocates before the unexpected cancellation were in daily contact with the Sanders campaign.
“They sent a ‘need to reschedule’ email last Sunday (for our Tuesday meeting), and then bizarrely stopped communications completely after that,” Staley said. “We’ve been emailing and calling every day since then, including warning them days ago about our intent to go public.”
According to a statement announcing the cancellation from the Brooklyn-based HIV and homeless advocacy group Housing Works, attendees were informed on April 30 the Sanders meeting was cancelled, which was two days after many of them purchased expensive, last-minute plane ticket to attend the event. Although the Sanders campaign promised to “reschedule” as soon as possible, it has yet to propose a new date, time or city, the statement says.
The Sanders campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment late Sunday to confirm the meeting with HIV advocates was cancelled or to explain why the event would be nixed.
Both Clinton and Sanders agreed in April, days before the New York primary, to meet separately with HIV advocates. The primary, which Clinton won by 16 points, was considered crucial in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination and ended up delivering a decisive victory for the frontrunner.
The agreement to meet was a result of letters sent to each of the presidential candidates requesting a meeting in the aftermath of Clinton’s controversial remarks earlier this year — for which she has apologized twice — praising President and Nancy Reagan for their efforts on HIV/AIDS.
In the letter to Clinton seeking a meeting, HIV advocates called on her to appoint an HIV adviser, meet with HIV community leadership and declare a commitment to end the AIDS epidemic nationally by 2025.
Among the more than 70 signers of the letter were the New York-based Gay Men’s Health Crisis, ACT UP New York, the National Black Justice Coalition, NMAC, Human Rights Campaign, the New York-based health agency Amida Care and the D.C.-based HIV/AIDS advocacy group Housing Works.
McQuie said the HIV advocates have also now heard from the campaign for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The HIV advocates were told he’s finalizing his policy team, but will get back to them once that occurs, McQuie says.
According to a statement from Housing Works, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns each proposed before the New York primary to meet with HIV community leaders, but confirmations never materialized. Only after threatening demonstrations at the Clinton and Sanders headquarters on the day before the New York primary did both campaigns promise May meetings.
Charles King, CEO of Housing Works, said in the statement he’s among Sanders’ supporters, but the candidate’s decision to cancel the meeting is “incredibly disappointing.”
“I have been a supporter of Bernie Sanders, and was proud to vote for him in the New York primary,” King said. “It is disheartening to see the ‘revolutionary’ candidate who claims to value grassroots organizing and visionary politics not make time in his schedule to meet with us. He is supposed to be the guy who walks the walk, but all we’ve heard the past six weeks is talk—and fairly tepid, reactive talk at that.”
Ramon Gardenhire, vice president of policy and advocacy for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, said Sanders should remain true to his word to meet HIV advocates.
“AIDS activists have learned the hard way that patience costs lives,” Gardenhire said. “‘SILENCE=DEATH’ was a reality in the 1980s, not just a slogan, with thousands of Americans dying while President Reagan ignored the new epidemic. As the AIDS crisis grew, politicians often said supportive things and then did nothing. True leadership requires action, not just empty words. Time and again, Sen. Sanders has publicly vowed to show up and not back down even when a fight is an uphill battle. Now is the time for him to demonstrate that to the HIV community.”
Although Trump hasn’t made comments on HIV/AIDS over the course of the 2016 campaign, both Clinton and Sanders have made confronting HIV/AIDS, which affects an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States, a component of their campaigns.
After apologizing for praising Nancy Reagan on HIV/AIDS, Clinton wrote an op-ed outlining a plan to confront the disease, which includes increased HIV and AIDS research and investment; expanding access to PrEP, especially for at-risk populations; reforming state HIV criminalization laws and encouraging Republican governors to accept Medicaid expansion.
Sanders unveiled a similar plan the day after that left out PrEP, but included a goal for “virtually universal access” to low-cost AIDS medications as soon as they’re approved and pushing for legislation to bar discrimination against LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS.
According to media reports, winning the Democratic presidential nomination through pledged delegates alone is now mathematically impossible for Sanders. The candidate has based continuing his campaign on calling on unpledged superdelegates to back the candidate whom their state supported at the Democratic National Convention, which he says gives him a path to victory.