Something to be proud about this June

Logo of the We Can End AIDS campaign.

Last week, for the fourth year in a row, President Obama declared June “LGBT Pride Month” this past week. Pride parades and festivals now take place all over the world, as annual events commemorating the Saturday in June of 1969 when New York’s queer community fought back against another night of abusive police raids at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Meanwhile, in recent years, a handful of states have approved same sex marriage laws.

Despite these advances, the shadow of the AIDS pandemic continues to hang over the struggle for LGBTQ rights, though the shape of this global crisis has changed dramatically. In the late 1970s and early 80s, AIDS was thought of as the “gay plague,” a disease that only affected the gay community, particularly men who had sex with men. The first documentation of AIDS was made in June as well — on June 5, 1982. Within months, heterosexual intravenous drug users were being diagnosed in large numbers as well. By 1983, the first cases of non-drug-using women and children were being diagnosed. The first needle exchange to limit the transmission of HIV was set up in Amsterdam in 1984.

Today, women make up more than half of all people living with HIV/AIDS globally. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death and illness among women of reproductive age worldwide.

Science now tells us that, for the first time since people started dying of AIDS in the 1960s, we can end the AIDS crisis once and for all — a complete game-changer — should we choose to. Studies that have employed TASP (treatment as prevention) drug therapy to decrease the chance of HIV spreading from one person to another have found that early start of antiretroviral treatment reduces the risk of HIV transmission by 96 percent. That is nothing short of incredible.

And yet we are not ending the AIDS crisis — the same way we are not ending poverty, and we are not addressing climate chaos. Why? We have the science, we know how much money we need ($10 to 30 billion) and we have some ideas about how to raise it. There could be a much-needed “Robin Hood” financial transaction tax — a tiny tax on huge money trades that could make as much as $100 billion per year — or maybe we can just ask the Walton Family (worth $102 billion) or the Koch Brothers (worth more than $50 billion).

All that we are missing is the political will. We are dying, literally, for political leadership to make and fund the policies that will save lives, and to heal the societies that have been thrown into disarray by the pandemic.

As it turns out, this summer there will be a perfect storm of advocacy opportunities that could win a series of policy changes and reinvigorate government response towards treatment, prevention and services for people living with AIDS around the world. There will be more than 30,000 people coming to Washington, D.C., in July for the International AIDS Conference, held in the United States for the first time in 22 years. There seems to be no better time to demand that the president step it up from merely designating a “Pride Month” to making lasting change by embracing the Robin Hood tax proposal and insisting that we choose to treat our fellow human beings around the world in a way that improves our chances for a healthy and peaceful future. That would be something anyone can be proud about.

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