Thirty-five years ago, the United States was just beginning to understand that the mysterious illness killing hundreds of mostly gay men, but also some hemophiliacs, women and infants. Before the end of the decade, the death rate would spike to nearly 90,000. There was much cause for pessimism and the rate of progress was far too slow to save the 362,004 people in the U.S. who died of AIDS by the end of 1996—the first year effective antiretroviral medications were introduced.
On World AIDS Day in 2017, Positive Women’s Network – USA remembers and honors each of those 362,004 people who died before real treatment was available. We also remember and honor the tens of thousands who continue to die preventable deaths in one of the richest countries in the world, decades after quality treatment has been available. The best way to honor their memory is to fight like hell to make sure not one more person has to die from what killed them – inequality, social marginalization, and a lack of access to quality health care.
AIDS activists in the 1980s understood that waiting for government to take action could only lead to more death. Their commitment, resolve and refusal to take “no” or “soon” for an answer allowed us to get to where we are today: where a person diagnosed with HIV can live a normal life span, stay healthy and have no fear of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners. Some of them are still with us, and still fighting. Far too many others are no longer with us. Today, we channel their energy, focus and determination for the many battles we today and will face in the weeks and months to come.
Since our inception in 2008, PWN-USA has always approached the epidemic with a human rights and gender justice lens. We have fought to focus attention, resources and data on women, including women of transgender experience. We have developed a model of trauma-informed care and pushed to get trauma-informed care into the most recent National HIV/AIDS Strategy. We created a Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV, to draw attention to the interpersonal and structural violence faced by women with HIV – and most of all, to offer solutions. But we have never had to fight for our lives and our community like we have this year.
2017 has brought an onslaught of concerted attacks on our communities from the highest reaches of government: assaults on the safety and dignity of Black, Latinx and Muslim people; LGBTQ people, especially our trans siblings; immigrants; and people living with chronic health conditions.
Yet the multitude of setbacks and challenges we have faced together over the past 11 months have strengthened us as a community, forged new bonds of solidarity with other movements and reestablished the HIV community as a force to be reckoned with. Our leadership and people power helped defeat the repeal of the Affordable Care Act—three times. We took to the streets and airports to protest Trump’s discriminatory “Muslim ban,” helping push the courts to take immediate action to block it—twice. We participated in the Women’s March and sister marches across the country, standing up for the rights of all women to reproductive, economic and gender justice. In the face of a rising tide of white supremacy, we co-convened #HIVRacialJusticeand produced a racial justice framework to shape with the HIV movement looks like. All the while, we have educated our community to participate effectively in policy advocacy, the legislative process and organizing our folks on the ground.
At the time of writing, Senate Republicans are doggedly ramming through a so-called “tax reform bill” that is nothing more than a disguised attempt to decimate health care access, Medicaid, Medicare, social security and other services and programs that benefit those with the least in order to provide deep tax cuts for the rich. We will battle this to the bitter end. Are you with us?
Regardless of what happens with the tax bill vote, we promise to keep fighting like hell to protect and advance critical services and our collective liberation.
And always, always, we will hold, protect and love each other.
In sisterhood and solidarity.