Millennium March Must Focus on the Continuing AIDS Crisis

by Duane Cramer Co-Chair, Millennium March on Washington for Equality

Bayard Rustin warned us against "behaving as if the truth were not the truth."

But that's exactly what America's fad culture has done to us. And let's face it, America is famous for focusing on "fads."

The media hype the latest diets, the hottest stars, the newest movies, the most recent scandals. New fads are pre-sold, mass-sold and oversold. We're living in the sound byte era. As a result of 30 second commercials, the ability to instantly delete e-mail, cellular phones, pagers, faxes and a dizzying array of new technologies, we are bombarded with information. News and events have to be sensationalized to hold our attention.

And that's sad, because one of the casualties has been attention to the ongoing AIDS crisis.

It's true: The focus on AIDS is waning. There is a new myth -- and it is a myth -- that says, "With all the new drugs and combination therapies, the AIDS epidemic is over."

Unfortunately, both outside and inside the gay community, too many people no longer take the AIDS crisis seriously. Yet, new communities are being infected at rapid and alarming rates, especially women, youth and people of color in North America and major population groups in Africa, Asia and South America.

As an African American, I'm particularly concerned about what's happening to people of color. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, African Americans now represent more than one-third of all reported cases of AIDS in the United States. African Americans account for over 43% of all new cases, though we comprise only 12% of the U.S. population. Latino populations account for 20% of new cases of HIV and AIDS and African American women represent 60% of all new cases among women. These statistics are staggering.

In spite of these realities, federal funding for resources in people of color communities is still scarce. I'm thankful for the commitment of the Black Congressional Caucus and encouraged by the recently initiated federal study of AIDS in communities of color. But this federal study is not unlike placing a Band-Aid on a massive gaping wound. As a result of pervasive and continued racism and homophobia, the growing HIV and AIDS epidemic in the African American and Latino communities is not given the attention nor the funding it would receive if the epidemic were still growing in the white community. Witness, for example, the financial condition of some of the largest and most established HIV and AIDS organizations.

AIDS is one of the worst mass plagues on a global scale in history. The millions of new HIV cases in Africa and Asia are leaving hundreds of thousands of children orphaned. In Africa alone, more than 35 million children have been orphaned by AIDS. The pervasive poverty that already exists in third world countries is exacerbated, and will be for decades, by this disease. Drugs are not available in too many places. And where they are available, they are often prohibitively expensive.

But in the United States, AIDS is no longer a 'sound byte'. Somewhere between the exciting debates over barebacking, public sex, queer politics, and a slew of "issues de jour," we have forgotten that this disease is not over. AIDS funding is dropping, our community has new interests, and we who have carried the scars of losing our loved ones, are left with an ache in the pit of our stomachs.

As a Black man living with HIV, I know all too well the need for increased awareness. This is one of the main reasons why I am on the Board of Directors for the Millennium March on Washington and serving as a Co-Chair of this 4th national GLBT March on Washington. The AIDS crisis is a federal issue. Health care should not be a luxury. Healthcare, for everyone, should be a right. When has it ever been in our best interest to be quiet?

Can our national politicians guarantee that no more cuts to AIDS funding and research will be made? Can they guarantee that women, youth and people of color will be given national priority? This issue is not just about Pride, this issue is about passion.

This is what I owe to my Brothers and Sisters, to my fellow people of color.

This is what I owe to everyone who has died of AIDS, and to those of us today who are living with HIV and AIDS.

This is what I owe to the children and the families and friends who are left with only their panels, and pictures, and memories of their loved ones.

And this is what I owe to my father, who died of AIDS. His spirit, passion and commitment will be with me at the Millennium March on Washington on April 30, 2000.

It's still true: Silence equals death. And activism equals life.

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