HIPS, a D.C.-based group that advocates on behalf of sex workers, and the Trans Latin@ Coalition in Los Angeles are among the more than 200 HIV/AIDS service organizations and advocacy groups that have signed an open letter to the International AIDS Society and the committee that is organizing the conference.
The letter specifically criticizes the Trump administration’s policies towards people with HIV/AIDS, the LGBTI community, immigrants and other marginalized groups. It also notes the “prohibitively expensive” registration fees that are as high as $1,200, the cost of travel and the lack of affordable accommodations in the Bay Area make the conference “will be unaffordable and inaccessible for the vast majority of U.S. advocates who most need to attend.”
“Hosting AIDS 2020 in the U.S. flies in the face of ample and undeniable evidence that the Trump administration’s violation of human rights, targeting of vulnerable communities for harm, and exacerbating HIV-related stigma worldwide, coupled with drastic budget cuts, threatens the advancements we have made in the domestic and global epidemics,” reads the letter.
The conference is scheduled to take place in San Francisco and Oakland from July 6-10, 2020, roughly four months before the 2020 presidential election.
“We anticipate that the U.S. political climate will only be worse in 2020, in the final months of a presidential election year that, like 2016, may well be marked by heightened violence, intentional promotion of stigma and the need to mobilize to protect our communities,” reads the letter.
The letter says the U.S. “has become increasingly militarized in its approach to immigrants, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is specifically targeting California” because of “its failure to comply with Trump administration policies on undocumented immigrants.” The letter also notes U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on March 7 filed a federal lawsuit against California over its status as a so-called sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants.
The International AIDS Society on March 13 announced the Bay Area would host the 2020 International AIDS Conference. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) — who represent San Francisco and portions Oakland and the East Bay respectively — both applauded the decision in an International AIDS Society press release.
“San Francisco is an inseparable part of the story of HIV/AIDS,” said Pelosi. “It is fitting and deeply inspiring that advocates, researchers and survivors will return to the Bay Area for the 2020 International AIDS Conference.”
Lee in the press release noted the Bay Area “has long been at the forefront of the AIDS epidemic.”
“While San Francisco and Oakland emerged as an early epicenter of the crisis, these cities have also been a hub for AIDS activism, research and community support,” she said.
‘This isn’t just about our personal distaste of Donald Trump’
HIV/AIDS advocates who attended the 2018 International AIDS Conference that took place in Amsterdam last week urged the International AIDS Society to relocate the 2020 International AIDS Conference from the U.S.
Mark King, a Baltimore-based HIV/AIDS activist who publishes the blog “My Fabulous Disease,” attended the 2018 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. He also signed the letter that urges the International AIDS Society to relocate the 2020 conference from the Bay Area.
King on Tuesday noted to the Washington Blade during a telephone interview the International AIDS Society relocated the 1992 International AIDS Conference that was to have taken place in Boston to Amsterdam because the U.S. at the time would not allow people with HIV/AIDS into the country.
“This is far worse than the HIV travel ban,” said King.” “This is an environment that is far worse.”
King told the Blade the White House continues to target lesbians, gays, bisexuals, immigrants and those who use drugs. He also said transgender people are “being systematically stripped of their human rights in this country” by the Trump administration.
“This isn’t just about our personal distaste of Donald Trump,” said King. “It is the administration and those policies run deep. They run deep into these agencies that have profound influence over every aspect of what we stand for as activists.”
Trans Latin@ Coalition President Bamby Salcedo echoed King.
“The immigration policies this admin has have been absolutely ridiculous,” Salcedo told the Blade on Wednesday. “There are going to be many people who are the most marginalized who aren’t going to be able to get into the country.”
She also said the conference registration fee is “too costly.”
“It really is the exclusion of the most marginalized,” said Salcedo.
A Pelosi spokesperson on Wednesday declined to comment. The International AIDS Society and Lee’s office did not respond to the Blade’s requests for comment.Daniel Bruner, senior director of policy for Whitman-Walker Health in D.C., on Wednesday said his organization understands the concerns about holding the conference in the U.S. Bruner told the Blade conference organizers and HIV/AIDS advocates should “dedicate ourselves to making sure that everyone can get there and any attempt to raise barriers or keep people out (of the U.S.) is vigorously resisted” if the International AIDS Society decides not to relocate it from the Bay Area.
“There are many reasons to host the 2020 International AIDS Conference in the U.S. — in fact, we think that a big reason is to demonstrate continued opposition to the Trump Administration’s policies on health care, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights,” he said in an emailed statement. “However, the overriding reason to consider relocating the conference outside the U.S. is to ensure that all people can attend and all voices can be heard. The administration’s hostile immigration policies would likely be a barrier to many people who should attend.”
The 1990 International AIDS Conference took place in San Francisco. The 2012 International AIDS Conference took place in D.C.
A number of HIV/AIDS activists who attended the D.C. conference protested U.S. policy that bans known sex workers and drug users from entering the country. Others urged American officials to do more to combat the domestic epidemic.