Michigan got its chance to give feedback to the White House Office of National AIDS Policy on Wednesday, 18 November 2009. From across the state, providers, people living with HIV, and people affected by HIV came and gave their recommendations, suggestions, and demands on video tape and in writing.
I was the statewide organizer for this event as part of my social work internship at the HIV/AIDS Resource Center (HARC). This experience was the perfect combination of public health and social work that I hope to gain from my dual degree program (MPH/MSW). When the nationwide community conversations were announced, many people across Michigan wondered why we didn’t have one scheduled near us, especially considering the fact that some zip codes in Detroit have higher HIV prevalence than some countries that receive emergency money form the United States government. The Campaign to End AIDS contacted me after hearing from a few outspoken Michiganders and we did a lot of grassroots organizing in a few short weeks to pull off this successful event. See the Between the Lines article and the Michigan Messenger article for further coverage.
The conversation was only two hours long, and the majority of the time was occupied by community members speaking about what they wanted in a National AIDS Strategy. The night started with welcomes from Craig Covey, Ferndale mayor (Ferndale is the city where the event was held) and longtime staff member of the Michigan AIDS Coalition, Christine Campbell and Larry Bryant of the Campaign to End AIDS, and Charles Pugh, President-elect of the Detroit City Council. Charles also moderated the event.
Below are some of the things people told the White House:
“When is the last time we got together as a community of loving, living people when funders weren’t making us?”
“We need quality healthcare for LGBT people living with HIV and AIDS – we need to strengthen doctor-patient relationships because people are not comfortable coming out to their doctors”
“Viagra and Cialis have aided in the resurgence of sexually transmitted infections in senior housing complexes. We need more education and prevention in these locations”
“The church, rid of stigma, denial and fear, becomes a change agent”
“my barrier [to being an AIDS advocate] is childcare”
“I wanted post-exposure prophylaxis and the nurse didn’t even know what it was!”
“We need the same laws coast to coast – enough with a patchwork of different laws about HIV”
“I missed class tonight to be here on my birthday to tell you that we need rec centers for our kids to have something safe to do after school”
“Michigan prisons don’t hand out condoms or test for HIV when people are released – but we know that people are still having sex and they need to get tested because they might need to get right into care”
It was great to hear people from as far away as Kalamazoo, Flint and Lansing gathering to speak out about such an important issue.