For the last several years I have publicly applauded Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's leadership and political courage to help advance efforts around LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues. In Democratic circles, party leaders in the past have even chastised me for doing so. But I personally believe when elected leaders demonstrate tremendous political courage, especially when it's a Republican speaking loudly in support of LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues, advocates have a duty to publicly applaud that courage.
Several years ago I personally witnessed Ileana demonstrate incredible courage when she re-examined the issue of syringe exchange programs. After several meetings with Ileana in Washington DC and Miami, she completely reversed her position and signed on with Congressman Jose Serrano as an introducing sponsor of legislation supporting the repeal of the ban to federally fund syringe exchange programs. It was an exciting year -- for a very brief period of time, the ban was lifted and for the first time in many years, advocates had another resource in the toolbox to help reduce the number of new HIV and hepatitis infections. Advocates quickly lost that resource when Republicans reinstated the ban on use of federal funds two years later.
Over the years I have become more politically involved and have closely aligned myself with the Democratic Party. While admittedly not perfect, Democrats at least attempt to muster the political will to address issues that the GOP typically tries to relegate into the dungeons of Congress where light is rarely seen.