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Taking the HIV Fight Back to the Streets: “ACT UP NYC” Protests In Times Square


  Last night, among the stars and the lights of Times Square, ACT UP NYC celebrated their 30th anniversary with an action and demonstration. The hour-long protest included chanting, speakers, and a staged die-in to represent the millions of lives lost to HIV and the lives that continue to be taken by the virus on a daily basis.

The action is a response to the anniversary of the Trump Administration having no set guidelines or standards on how they would approach HIV funding or how they would work over the next four years in the field of HIV. In January, the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) was disbanded, with the website initially taken down, followed by it becoming an archived site. By March, the Trump Administration stated they would not touch HIV funding, to only two weeks later suggest budget cuts of nearly $400 million worldwide ($50 million of that domestically). By May, the actual budget submitted to the House and Senate listed closer to $1.3 billion in cuts, with $400 million domestically and $800 million to the PEPFAR program.

Earlier this month we discussed what occurred in June, 2017 “when six members of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS decided to resign, issuing a scathing letter to the Trump administration and citing a lack of care and inability to work with the White House. This decision shook the HIV community, as it was a stamp on the uncertainty of the future of HIV work in the country.”

The chants of “ACT UP, FIGHT BACK” went on for about 20 minutes, as crowds gathered around to take view of what resistance looks like in the face on an uncertain future. Signs stating “Undetectable = Untransmittable” and “Fight Stigma” could be seen throughout the crowd, serving as a reminder that those who are HIV-positive would no longer live a life in shame. The chanting was then followed by a die-in, which lasted about ten minutes. Members of the ACT UP New York group placed their bodies on the sidewalk, representing the lives that continue to be affected and killed by the virus, due to poor resources and treatment options available throughout the world.

Up next was the speaker portion, where Maddison O’Neil and Emily Sanderson of ACT UP talked to the crowd about various lived experiences, and the work being done by ACT UP NY over the past 30 years. I was even able to speak to HIV stigma and criminalization over the past 30 years and how HIV stigma is what stops people from getting tested because they are afraid of what life is like as an HIV-positive person. They would rather not know. I spoke about how stigma keeps people from disclosing their status because of the fear of rejection and isolation; how criminalization on a micro level involves the 33 states that have 67 laws against those who are HIV-positive, with many involving jail time for “risk of exposure.” Emily spoke about the work of ACT UP and the importance of continuing to do this type of resistance in the face of inaction, as this serves as the 30-year anniversary of “Acting Up to End AIDS.” Madison gave a personally touching story of his life, having been diagnosed with HIV perinatal and living with the virus over the past 26 years, how HIV has affected his life, his personal relationships, and the importance of continuing to be a voice in the community and fighting for the lives of those who are HIV-positive.

The action ended peacefully, with the message being served very loud and clear. As we move into 2018, it is important that organizations doing the work of HIV continue to push back on agendas that help sustain the virus, especially in the most marginalized communities.

For those who need to get tested, the CDC puts out this message for you: Today is #WAD2017. I/We encourage you to get tested for #HIV. Help us #ActAgainstAIDS! Find an HIV testing location near you: https://www.cdc.gov/actagainstaids/campaigns/doingit/locator.html

Photo credits: Peter Fahrni