On November 6, Americans voted to reelect Barack Obama to serve a second term as President of the United States. As a black man, it was personally gratifying to see the first African American president join only 20 previous U.S. presidents to serve a second term in office. As a gay man, it was incredibly poignant to see that President Obama’s historic endorsement of gay marriage not only failed to hurt his electoral prospects, but may have actually bolstered them. As a man living with HIV, I am pleased that someone who has demonstrated such a strong commitment to combatting, and ultimately ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic will continue to lead our nation at such a critical moment for our movement. But the campaign is over, and now our nation must get back to the business of governing.
For the first time in over thirty years, we are in a position to realistically envision a world free from AIDS. Policy and science have aligned like never before to show us a pathway to bringing an end to this epidemic. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy has laid out ambitious and achievable goals for reducing new HIV infections, increasing access to care and mitigating health disparities. At the same time, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will expand access to health care coverage for millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands living with HIV or AIDS. And biomedical interventions, including treatment as prevention, pre and post-exposure prophylaxis, and microbicides are exciting new tools to include in comprehensive prevention strategies to slow the spread of HIV.
Last week’s election only strengthened our position in combatting this disease. For the first time in history, four states voted to support LGBT equality by endorsing marriage equality. Across the country, candidates that attacked women’s reproductive rights were roundly defeated. And while the voters were offered the choice to dismantle health care reform, as well as dismantle Medicare and Medicaid, the largest providers of care for people living with HIV or AIDS in America, they voted for progress. Overall, the American public agrees that everyone deserves access to quality, affordable health care services.
But despite these incredibly promising developments in our fight against this epidemic, a number of significant challenges remain. Our country’s finances are still dire and the ideological gulf between the parties is as wide as ever. Federal law continues to ban the use of federal funds for evidence-based syringe services programs. Thirty-two states have HIV-specific criminal statutes, which discourage testing and further stigmatize people living with HIV or AIDS. Too many of our friends and loved ones continue to struggle to find they way into safe and affordable housing. And next year, the two largest federal programs aimed at address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Ryan White CARE Act and PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, are up for reauthorization.
Even before the new Congress is sworn in, current legislators must address the so-called “fiscal cliff,” which threatens to derail our already weak economic recovery. If a resolution cannot be found, the impact on our nation and our fight against HIV/AIDS are profound. As stated in a joint issue brief released by the amfAR and NMAC, sequestration alone threatens more than $650 million in critical HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis funding. But combatting this epidemic is not a partisan issue. Both parties have shown admirable leadership in this fight. And we must work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to find a balanced solution.
As president, Barack Obama has proven his commitment to fighting and ultimately ending this epidemic time and time again. From his release of the first ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy to his signing of historic health care reform and his support for marriage equality and women’s reproductive health, President Obama has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to ensuring the health and wellbeing of Americans, while also working to promote health equity. But he cannot do this alone. Even after Tuesday’s election, Congress remains divided, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats controlling the Senate. We, the American public, must demand that they work together to achieve our common goal of eradicating this disease. The time for partisan showmanship is over. Now is the time for leadership.
KALI LINDSEY is the director of legislative & public affairs for the National Minority AIDS Council