Herds of LGBTQ+ and housing activists banded together to commemorate World AIDS Day on Wednesday, Dec 1. They marched from Christopher Park in Manhattan, home of the landmarked Stonewall National Monument, to the LGBTQ Center and AIDS memorial on West 13th Street.

Forty years since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially reported the first cases of what later became known as AIDS, we mourn the loss of more than 36 million people—including 700,000 in the United States—who have died from AIDS-related illness. We honor the nearly 38 million people living with HIV, including 1.2 million in the United States. And we celebrate the remarkable gains we have made together in battling this disease.

At the rally and march organizers, such as VOCAL-NY, End the Epidemic Coalition, and Housing Works, resoundingly called for services and affordable housing for people living with HIV/AIDS statewide as well as more resources dedicated to ending both the AIDS and drug overdose epidemic in New York.

“We know that housing is health care and without that we cannot do this,” said HIV/AIDS Campaigns Coordinator Ruwi Shaikh.

Jennifer Johnson Avril, Housing Works director of advocacy communications, said that focusing on ending homelessness for LGBTQ people and supporting HASA (NYC HIV/AIDS Services Administration) is integral to solving the AIDS crisis, or at least the impact it has on people’s lives.

Avril said HASA currently makes rent vouchers for people living with HIV, but they often aren’t useful in affording an apartment because they don’t meet the market rate. “So we want to see those vouchers become worth something so people can find supportive housing and be healthy and safe and have stable lives so that they can be in safe care and get what they need in order to survive,” said Avril.

Avril pointed out that the HASA system, though flawed, only exists in the city and not statewide.

In 2014, former New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to end the AIDS epidemic in the state based on the organizer-led Ending the Epidemic Task Force, which partnered with the state Department of Health.

Dozens of organizations, including organizations such as Housing Works, VOCAL-NY, and Legal Action Center, advocated for years to implement the policy proposals from the taskforce before Cuomo took action to adopt the recommendations, said
VOCAL-NY’s Director of Organizing Jawanza Williams.

“The Blueprint to end AIDS by 2020 did not belong to Governor Cuomo,” criticized Williams. “Cuomo brazenly said that he had ended AIDS. AIDS is not over.”

NYS Gov. Kathy Hochul, who replaced Cuomo after he resigned due to sexual harrasessment allegations this year, and NYC Mayor-elect Eric Adams said by video that they would recommit to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic ahead of the World AIDS Day community forum that followed the rally and march.

“Sometimes we get over-consumed when we’re facing a crisis like [the] COVID pandemic, but we must remember that we have an epidemic that is still among us: HIV,” said Adams in the recorded message. “We are committed to renew our spirit and energy to ensure that we combat HIV here in the City of New York.”

Adams said that more than 100,000 New Yorkers have died of HIV/AIDS and there are just as many living with the virus.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden also publicly renewed the U.S. government’s decades-long “commitment” to ending the HIV epidemic and creating more equitable access to care and treatment, particularly for communities of color, adolescent girls and young women, and the LGBTQI+ community.

On Biden’s campaign for office, he leaned on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy to “aggressively reduce new HIV cases” by 2025. Post-COVID outbreak has pushed back that goal to 2030.

Key steps in the strategy include reinstating the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, the $2.21 billion in Ryan White HIV/AIDS program funding announced this October, $670 million in the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, and utilizing the additional $250 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan just passed.

“We have him on the record as having said 2025 during his campaign. However, we understand that because of the pandemic, many things happened that made it impossible to meet that mark. We are hopeful that and we believe that the epidemic can be ended in the United States by 2030. It will take a lot of political will. It’ll take a lot of investment by the government and we hope to see the government make those investments,” said Avril about the president’s promises.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here: bit.ly/amnews1

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.