Thursday, April 24, 2008

HIV and the Politics of Invisibility

That was the title of GLAD’s panel discussion held Tuesday night at the Jorge Hernandez Cultural Center. It is a heavy title that forces us to ask the question: “Where are we today with regards to the AIDS epidemic?” How is it possible that after so many years of devastating loss and discrimination that infection rates continue to soar, disproportionately affecting minority communities? A panel of four renowned individuals in the fight against AIDS: Douglas Brooks, ED of JRI Health; Jacob Smith Yang, ED of Massachusetts Asian and Pacific Islanders for Health; Reverend Irene Monroe, writer and activist; and Kevin Cathcart, ED of Lambda Legal took the stage to discuss their thoughts on the invisibility of the HIV epidemic in the United States.

Kevin Cathcart addressed the paradox of the US government requiring national HIV plans in developing countries, but never forcing our own country to develop one. Other countries that have placed HIV/AIDS at the forefront of national policies and used culturally appropriate prevention strategies have been successful in reducing the transmission rate of HIV. Thailand, for example, implemented a “100 percent condom program” in the 1990’s providing all sex workers with boxes of free condoms. HIV infection rates dropped significantly. What makes it so hard for the US to implement a national strategy that would decrease infection rates across the board? Is our country just too diverse to come up with one national plan?

Jacob Smith Yang discussed the complexity and diversity of the US population. Neglecting to address this diversity has left minority populations behind in the fight against HIV. Yang described the diversity within the Asian population that’s often invisible in the US. It’s necessary to break down the larger Asian population to understand the specific populations affected. When it comes to collecting demographic data for the AIDS epidemic it does not suffice to simply fill in “Asian” (or, worse, “Other” – lumping anyone who is not white, African American or Latino into one category) on a form.

Recording agencies such as the CDC have claimed that desegregating this data is useless because the differentiated numbers are too small to matter, but when infection rates continue, what number is too small? Why can’t we be concerned nationally and on a state level about the health and well being of every individual? We are lucky to live in a diverse society where each population is unique in terms of its cultural dynamics, but that makes it all the more necessary for a national HIV plan to address these differences. By failing to develop a national HIV plan for our own country, we are making this epidemic invisible to the greater public, when in fact decreasing infection rates takes the awareness of every single individual.

- Noreen Giga, Bilingual Outreach Educator

Panelists Reverend Irene Monroe, Jacob Smith Yang, and Kevin Cathcart discuss educating youth about HIV and AIDS.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Culture-Shifting Moment: Establishing Protections for People with HIV

When Dr. Randon Bragdon of Bangor, Maine refused dental care to Sidney Abbot in 1994 because she had HIV, his attitude reflected widespread fear and misinformation about the disease. GLAD represented Sidney, suing and ultimately winning at the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998. The landmark victory established that people with HIV are protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Sidney Abbott tells her story, and attorneys Bennett Klein, Wendy Parmet, and Chai Feldblum offer legal insight on the fight to protect people with HIV from discrimination in GLAD's April audio podcast .

In this video clip, attorney Bennett Klein talks about the importance of fighting HIV discrimination