Recently, the Trump administration dismissed every member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, and HIV/AIDS research has been halted.
Trump has made it clear throughout his life how he feels about persons with HIV/AIDS. In the ‘80s, Trump became associates with the infamously ruthless and closeted Roy Cohn. Cohn stated at Trump’s 37th party birthday (which Cohn threw), that the two were best friends. This was until 1985, when Cohn discovered he had AIDS and was dying. He lied, of course, and informed all those who knew him that he had liver cancer. As word spread among his inner circle that he had AIDS, all of his friends, including Trump, dropped him. At the end of his life, Cohn was quoted as saying, “Donald pisses ice water.”
Despite Trump’s clear position on AIDS, most of the Administration’s HIV/AIDS policy changes are not actually coming from him.
Mike Pence is at the helm on this one. Pence has allegedly said, behind closed doors, that all gay people should be hung. Pence has proudly asserted that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” In 2000, Pence’s gubernatorial campaign website pushed for the following amendment to the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act: “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Pence believes the CARE Act should not be federally funded, meaning those who suffer from the disease should pay out of pocket. Instead, in Pence’s view, conversion therapy initiatives (exorcisms, hugging, marriage to the opposite sex, testicle transplants, etc.) should be federally funded. In 2006, he went on the record by stating that gay couples signal “societal collapse” since they cannot naturally procreate. In 2007, Pence opposed a law that would have prohibited discrimination against LGBT people. During his tenure as Governor of Indiana, there was a spike in HIV/AIDS. As HIV/AIDS was spreading, Pence took two months to “pray on it” and then took action.
Background on the Politics of AIDS
The first AIDS cases became a national epidemic in 1981. Those infected with the disease were all gay men. At the time, the President was Ronald Reagan, who was a part of the religious and conservative right-wing party. He associated himself with people like Rev. Jerry Falwall, who once said, “AIDS is the wrath of God upon homosexuals.” Reagan’s communications director Pat Buchanan stated that AIDS was “nature’s revenge on gay men.” President Reagan and his administration remained silent on the subject of AIDS while thousands were either dying or already dead.
The Democratic Party noticed that there was a problem and also noticed that the administration was ignoring it, so in 1984 they held the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. This was done in the hopes that it would focus attention on AIDS research, education, and treatment. President Reagan did not publicly address AIDS until May 31, 1987. By the time he began to take action, 36,058 Americans had AIDS and over 20,000 in America were already dead. Doctor C. Everett Koop, Reagan’s Surgeon General, stated the lack of action was for the following reason: that “because transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs, they (the administration) took the stand that they (AIDS patients) are only getting what they justly deserve.”
If this is what he truly believed, why in 1987 would President Reagan begin to take action? In 1987, news began to spread that heterosexuals (in particular, heterosexual white men) could also contract AIDS. When this was determined, Surgeon General Koop called it “the biggest threat to health this nation has ever faced.”
President H.W. Bush also did little to ramp up AIDS education and medicine during his four years in the White House. In 1995, under President Clinton, the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS was created. This was a major step. Following President Clinton, President George Bush started PEPFAR (Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). This plan saved thousands of lives, not just in the U.S., but across Africa. President Obama maintained both programs throughout his presidency, and, under his term, a medicine called PREP (Truvada) was approved by the FDA. This drug prevents the spread of HIV from HIV-positive patients to HIV-negative ones.
Now We Have Donald Trump and Mike Pence
Forty percent of people living with HIV rely on Medicaid. In May of 2017, with the basic function of health care dangling by a string, Trump was seen doing a victory lap at the White House. The very day of Trump’s inauguration, the White House’s policy on AIDS was removed from the website. To this date, there is STILL no head of the HIV/AIDS council and all six members resigned, which means the ENTIRE AIDS COUNCIL is vacant. Where there used to be a blank AIDS Council page at the following link, there is now nothing at all: https://www.whitehouse.gov/onap. In fact, there isn’t a single page on www.whitehouse.gov that mentions AIDS or HIV and how they plan to help the citizens who are affected. Because they don’t plan to help.
People with HIV/AIDS today are gay men, people of color, and the poor. This is why the Trump administration, and the Republican Party at large, doesn’t want to fix it. The Republican Party benefits from the catastrophic effects of AIDS. It reminds their base that queers are getting their just dues. It also reminds their base that colored people are unimportant. If this seems like political rhetoric to you, I kindly ask you to remember the attempts to repeal the ACA. Initially, Republicans were immediately ready to remove it, until they found out that the majority of people who benefited from the ACA were white Americans. After that was determined, the fight dragged on.
The Republican agenda is to disenfranchise marginalized people in whatever way they can. The war on drugs, the war on women, and, yes, even the complete silence and indifference on HIV/AIDS is enacted to cripple marginalized communities. In 2016, 10,223 black men; 7,425 Latino men; and 4,189 black heterosexual women who have had sex with men were diagnosed with HIV. All three of these groups are overwhelmingly Democratic. The Republican Agenda is to win, at all costs, even at the expense of the lives of American citizens.
What is HIV/AIDS? A Primer:
Human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV) is a virus that is transmitted through blood, pre-ejaculate, semen, and vaginal fluids. After one to four weeks, some people will experience flu-like symptoms. , which includes rash, fever, upset stomach, and achy joints, but many will experience no symptoms at all. For those who experience symptoms, by the fifth week, most of the symptoms will disappear. HIV will begin to replicate in the blood and cause damage to the immune system, silently. This period (the asymptomatic stage) can last anywhere between 10-15 years. After this time period, many will experience symptoms like weight loss, diarrhea, fever, or coughing. This can be a make or break period as many will treat these symptoms with over-the-counter medication without going to a doctor. If left untreated, HIV will turn into AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Unlike HIV, AIDS is deadly. AIDS occurs when the immune system is so seriously damaged that your CD4 (immune system helper cells) are less than 200. The healthy level is 500 and above. Unlike many deadly diseases, no one has ever died of AIDS, but they die from the opportunistic diseases that AIDS victims contract. Diseases such as pneumonia, Kaposi’s sarcoma, cytomegalovirus, and candida are what kill AIDS patients. Early detection is key when fighting AIDS, as HIV-positive people are now able to live normal lifespans with recent breakthroughs in medication. So why are so many people advancing from HIV to AIDS? Why is HIV/AIDS such a shameful, untalked-of ailment in America? To find the answer, we need to look at three factors: who gets the disease, who it affects, and who reaps the benefits of letting it go untreated.