Last summer when I was in Washington, D.C., I learned about the resurgent HIV/AIDS epidemic in our nation’s capital, something that most Americans have heard nothing about. It’s an outrage and a tragedy, and the fact that HIV is both preventable and treatable makes our inaction morally indefensible — and this is going on at the seat of our national government.
But the problem is widespread across the American South, and shouldn’t be forgotten. When I lived in New Orleans, I worked for the New Orleans AIDS Task Force (NO/AIDS) in their prevention department, and saw first-hand the impact that HIV has on individuals, families, and communities. I also saw how a hostile Louisiana state government actually cost people their lives, through discriminatory policies, bizarre Hester Prynne-style laws, and unexplainable shunning of federal funds.
So I’m glad to see that Human Rights Watch has released an excellent report detailing the state of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in neighboring Mississippi. This truly is a human rights issue, right here at home.
This 59-page report documents the harmful impact of Mississippi’s policies on state residents, including people living with HIV and those at high risk of contracting it. Mississippi refuses to provide complete, accurate information about HIV prevention to students and threatens criminal penalties for failing to disclose one’s HIV status to sexual partners. At the same time, Mississippi provides little or no funding for HIV prevention, housing, transportation, or prescription drug programs for people living with HIV, and the state fails to take full advantage of federal subsidies to bolster these programs. In Mississippi, half of people testing positive for the virus are not receiving treatment, a rate comparable to that in Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.
Take a look at the whole thing, and please watch this video below. Thanks to Human Rights Watch for bringing attention to an issue that’s been neglected for a generation.
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What’s the most pressing gay rights issue on the agenda right now? If you ask the average American, or, frankly, a Development Director at a national LGBT advocacy organization, the answer will probably be same-sex marriage. And it certainly seems like the gay rights movement is on offense, after a historic victory on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and slow but steady progress on the relationship recognition front. The problem is that national media (and also gay donor) myopia has served to obscure some truly horrible legislation and legislators that are appearing in state capitols. I think progressives generally recognize that the pro-choice movement is under serious, constant assault — there was an outcry when the South Dakota “license to kill” bill was exposed. But on LGBT issues, there is complacency.
Just this past weekend, Louisiana State Rep. Jonathan Perry was elected to the State Senate. His claim to fame is that he proposed a law — in two separate legislative sessions — that would bar the state of Louisiana from issuing a birth certificate listing two parents of the same sex, even if both parents had legally adopted the child. The key here is that this legislation has no effect on the relationship of the parents — gay people cannot obtain a civil union, domestic partnership, or civil marriage in Louisiana, and the prospect of Louisiana granting any legal recognition of gay relationships in the short term is a pipe dream. This bill would have only harmed the child of gay parents, whose legal status may have been compromised in any number of situations, but most severely in the case of the death of one of his or her parents. This bill was literally an anti-adopted-child bill. Perry’s views on homosexuality are so retrograde that he feels children of gay parents should be singled out and punished. When confronted with the consequences of his legislation, Perry went on the record to say that he didn’t care.
Despite the best efforts of my former employer, the Forum For Equality, Perry was elected by a margin of 52-48. Progressives need to wake up to the fact that while elderly white lesbians getting married in Connecticut is a beautiful thing that is long overdue, truly bigoted and powerful people in this country are out to do real harm to gay people and their children, right now. And they are winning elections. In general, there are some truly odious things going on in southern state legislatures across all issue areas. I’ll do my best to highlight them, but I think a structural shift in intellectual and financial resources is desperately needed.
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