Note from Greg Smith: Guest blogger Frank Oldham, Jr currently leads a dynamic movement of people living with HIV/AIDS as the Executive Director of the National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA-US). Oldham's nearly two decades of HIV/AIDS service and his personal commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS led to his selection NAPWA's Executive Director.
It's been a very interesting election year. NAPWA, as a 501(c)(3) charitable corporation, is not permitted to support or oppose individual candidates or political parties, so we can't name names - but we can share our general observation that some of this year's candidates would be pretty grand entertainment if there weren't a real chance they might get elected.
It's also been one of the nastiest campaign seasons in recent memory, and a lot of us just want it to end and go away. But there are some good reasons to get to the polls and vote anyway- especially when keeping in mind HIV prevention, education and the needs of persons with HIV.
- Defend the Health Care Reform Act. Imagine a world where insurance companies can't ask about preexisting conditions and use our answers to deny us coverage or cover us differently! We'll have to wait until 2014 for full implementation of that, but it's in the new law, and candidates who will defend the law against attempts to repeal it outright or amend it out of existence deserve our support. So do incumbent candidates who knew they were risking their seats but voted for the bill anyway; they took a big risk for us.
- The next Congress will - or won't - fund implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The Obama Administration's National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) seeks to reduce the number of new HIV infections, increase access to care and optimize health outcomes, and reduce HIV-related health disparities. All of which is very good news for people living with HIV. It doesn't mean much, though, if Congressional funding priorities are being set by folks who think anyone who doesn't look like them is not the "real America." Simply by being HIV-positive, we don't look like them. We don't want a Congress full of elected representatives chanting, "We shouldn't be spending money on NHAS, 'they' wouldn't have HIV if 'they' hadn't been doing bad things."
- The next Congress will set the agenda for young people's HIV-awareness and prevention education.We've seen the lack of results from abstinence-only curricula. Even the current Congress is gradually moving from ideology-driven abstinence-only approaches to evidence-based, frank sex education, and it is saving the lives of our young people. We don't want to go back.
- There are critical HIV funding needs right now. State AIDS Drugs Assistance Programs (ADAPs) are in crisis because of the recession which started in 2008. Programs for HIV-positive people with multiple medical or life issues - homelessness, addiction, mental illness - are also finding funds harder and harder to come by. Find out where your candidates stand on HIV services, and vote for those who support funding for them.
The votes of people living with HIV/AIDS are needed now more than ever before! As the leader of NAPWA and an African-American gay man living with AIDS, I know that so much progress and the fruits of hard-fought battles for our health care, protecting Ryan White Care Act services, and our rights as American citizens are at risk right now!
So let's be sure to know our candidates and choose well. Win or lose, we'll all feel better if we did our research and voted our values.