In a speech touting economic growth and promising “the best has yet to come,” President Trump in the State of the Union address Tuesday renewed his pledge to beat HIV by 2030.
Trump made a call to beat HIV/AIDS to cheers from lawmakers in the joint session of Congress during a portion of speech dedicated to health initiatives under his administration.
“We have launched ambitious new initiatives to substantially improve care for Americans with kidney disease, Alzheimer’s and those struggling with mental health,” Trump said. “And because Congress was so good as to fund my request, new cures for childhood cancer, and we will eradicate the AIDS epidemic in America by the end of this decade.”
The cross-agency initiative under the Department of Health & Human Services seeks to eliminate at least 90 percent of new HIV infections in the United States within 10 years with a PrEP-heavy focus on diagnosis, treatment, prevention and response.
Trump renews his call to beat HIV one year after announcing his plan in last year’s State of the Union address. The administration’s subsequently sought in its budget request a $300 million increase in HIV/AIDS fund to implement the initiative (although the request significantly slashed global HIV/AIDS programs). Congress agreed to those funds in the fiscal year 2020 budget approved late last year.
The Partnership to End HIV, STDs & Hepatitis said in a statement after the State of the Union the coalition of groups — AIDS United, NASTAD, the National Coalition of STD Directors, NMAC and the AIDS Institute — applaud Trump’s “commitment to this issue and stand ready to work with the administration to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by 2030.”
“The progress we’ve made as a country is encouraging, but we know the most difficult work still lies ahead,” the statement says. “We have the tools to end HIV once and for all, but we must back it up with sound and sensible policies that expand access to stigma-free care, lift up vulnerable populations like our Black and Latinx communities, protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination and address rising STD and viral hepatitis rates. Only then will we rise to the challenge and truly eradicate this epidemic.”
But Trump’s call to beat HIV/AIDS has fallen on skeptical ears to those keeping tabs on his anti-LGBTQ record, including administrative actions enabling anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religious freedom.
Trump made a reference to his support for religious freedom in the State of the Union address without enumerating specific actions that have enabled anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
“My administration is also defending religious liberty, and that includes the constitutional right to pray in public schools,” Trump said. “In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers and pastors. In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the Glory of God.”
Trump’s speech, which lasted slightly more than one hour, ignored the pending impeachment trial. The U.S. Senate was expected this week to acquit Trump on charges he improperly withheld U.S. funds to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into his potential political opponent, Joseph Biden.
A key portion of the speech was Trump declaring he’d bestow the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, a longtime conservative talk radio show host who recently announced he was diagnosed with lung cancer. A stanch critic of Presidents Clinton and Obama and defender of President George W. Bush and Trump, Limbaugh also made known his opposition to LGBTQ rights.
LGBTQ advocates were unimpressed with the speech. Also apparently displeased was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who appeared to rip a copy of Trump’s speech at the end of the State of the Union address.
Sharon McGowan, legal director at Lambda Legal, said in a statement Trump “doubled down on his agenda of hate and division” in the State of the Union address.
“Filled with blatant lies and race-baiting rhetoric, tonight’s speech must be a call to action for all people who believe in our shared humanity and the right of every person to equal justice and dignity under law,” McGowan said. “By weaponizing religious liberty arguments, this administration has relentlessly attacked not only the LGBT community, but also women, communities of color and religious minorities. And by using tonight’s State of the Union to bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Rush Limbaugh, President Trump displays his utter disdain for the overwhelming majority of our country who neither look like him nor share his cynical world view.”