Obama’s Plan to End the HIV Crisis

Kaytee Riek

Taking a look at Obama's AIDS plan is like reading my policy wish list. But no president has ever taken fighting AIDS, especially at home, seriously. Will this time be different?

Like so many millions of Americans, on November 4th I sat with friends and watched in awe
as America elected Barack Obama to be our 44th president. And for
the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to understand what all this means,
especially for people with HIV in the US and worldwide. In this time of
transition, I’ve realized it’s helpful to look back on where we’ve been in
order to get an idea of just how historic this election is.

So, let’s go
back in time, to May of 2007. President Bush has just given a speech
outlining his vision for the next five years of U.S. global AIDS efforts. In
short, he said "we should keep doing what we’re doing, not learn any lessons,
keep pushing abstinence, and flat fund the program." This was on top of six and
half years of wholesale neglect of the domestic AIDS crisis. In response,
activists got together and developed a platform
that laid out exactly what the next president would need to do to undo the harm
of the Bush administration’s AIDS plan, while continuing the parts that are
doing good and saving lives.

We set out
on a mission – to convince each of the candidates for office that they needed
to support our plan, which included such novel ideas as promoting comprehensive
sex education, advancing generic drug access and spending $50 billion over five
years on AIDS around the world. While we made some
progress, the fight against AIDS was overshadowed by other issues shaping the
campaigns, such as the war, healthcare and the economy.

Then, a
little over a year ago, several hundred people marched through the streets of
Philadelphia to the doors of the Democratic debate, and demanded AIDS plans
from each of the Democratic candidates for president. Shortly after, all eight
candidates had released comprehensive plans to fight AIDS, including our
current President-elect and Vice-President-elect. Their plans were modeled in
large part on a platform many of us had been advocating for months.

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Taking a
look at Obama’s AIDS
plan
(PDF) is like reading my policy wish list. He promises to leave
behind ideology-driven debates over how to spend money, and instead put common
sense and science first. He wants to end our funding of programs that only discuss
abstinence and fidelity without a mention of condoms. He would no longer
negotiate harmful trade deals that prioritize drug company profits over
people’s lives. And he wants to invest fully in the fight against global AIDS,
both through bilateral programs and the multilateral Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
TB, and Malaria.

Domestically,
his plan is spot-on. He’s calling for the development of a National AIDS
Strategy, including expanding Medicaid to cover people with HIV, not just AIDS,
and ending the federal ban on funding for syringe exchange. He recognizes that
we must do more to confront the epidemic of HIV communities of color,
especially amongst gay men and other men who have sex with men, and calls for
action on this issue.

Unlike
Bush’s plan detailed in May of 2007, we won a plan from Obama that uses many of
the real tools we have to fight the epidemic. In two months and two days, President Obama will
become the 44th president of the United States. We have much to be
hopeful for, but we also know that he is going to face incredible challenges to
enact his visionary plan. In the midst of a financial crisis, programs aimed at
the poorest people are easy to push aside for a few months or a few years. We
need to let President-elect Obama know we support him, and we support him
implementing his AIDS plan.

In two days,
one thousand activists will do just this. People living with HIV, and allies,
from across the country are coming to DC to rally behind Obama’s AIDS plan, and
call for him to take steps to implement it in his first 100 days in office.
We’ll be holding an "inauguration ceremony and parade," and will march to the
White House and transition team offices.

The AIDS
crisis, both domestically and globally, is not something that can be ignored
any longer. No president has ever taken fighting AIDS, especially at home,
seriously. We’re on the verge of inaugurating the first person that not only
can help us end the AIDS epidemic, but has the plan to do it, too. We’re
hopeful that he will really do what he says he’s going to do. But we’re also
taking action, and rallying behind his plan, because we know that grassroots
action is the only way we’ll really end the AIDS epidemic.

You can find
out more information about our Inauguration and Rally at
www.100daystofightaids.org

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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