When the AIDS crisis first hit in the early 80s, activists blamed Ronald Reagan for his willful silence on the epidemic, and rightly so. Reagan wasn’t in the dark—between his daily briefings and his Hollywood friends, he knew gay men were being felled by a mysterious new disease. His reticence to address the issue—or even speak of it—was a political calculation.
I don’t think the same can be made of Donald Trump, who’s been mainly silent about AIDS while still pushing for more than $350 million in cuts to HIV/AIDS campaigns and research.
Today is National HIV Testing Day, and the White House actually did issue a statement. One that manages to exclude any mention of gay or bi men, or the LGBT community at all, while slyly shaming those who are HIV-positive.
“HIV carriers who do not know they have the virus put themselves and others at risk, missing out on life-saving treatment and possibly, inadvertently affecting others,” Trump said. “People who are not currently receiving treatment transmit more than 90% of infections, as they do not benefit from treatments that dramatically reduce the amount of virus in their bodies. That is why the key to interrupting the transmission is a simple, routine HIV test.”
That’s all true, but the wording is everything: Calling people “HIV carriers” reduces them to disease vectors, walking plagues. And the statement focuses on the possibility of transmission, rather than getting sick, as the reason to get tested and treated. Again, it weaponizes positive people as walking WMDs.
The unspoken message is that it’s not about how HIV is impacting positive people, but how it could (gasp) hit good, clean people like you and me.
It’s a message underscored by the crippling effect Trumpcare would have on LGBT people, HIV-positive people and other marginalized communities.
But I don’t think he’s being as calculating as Reagan was. A look at his Twitter feed today sees Trump fixated on CNN, the election and Fox News. (In other words, business as usual.) He doesn’t see HIV-positive people or the LGBT community as the enemy, or even a political liability. He just doesn’t think of us at all. He doesn’t seem to think of much beyond his fragile ego. Earlier this month, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned in protest because Trump didn’t care about the epidemic.
To suggest he’s intentionally marginalizing people with HIV is to give Trump more credit than he deserves.
The danger is, though, is that he’s leaving a lot of policy and messaging to those around him, who do have a homophobic, transphobic, AIDS-phobic agenda. (We’re an impeachment away from having Mike Pence as president—the guy who said Indiana’s AIDS budget should be spent on conversion therapy.)
In the end, it amounts to the same thing: Whether Trump is dictating AIDS policy or letting his minions do it, years of advancement in the fight against HIV is being undone—right when we’re so close to ending the epidemic for good. So we need to fight.
Go out there, get tested, and then give them hell.