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Rick Rosendall’s attack against the proponents of HIV surveillance and names reporting (The Mail, 9/7) does not make the Gay and Lesbian Activists Association’s objections to the District’s unique-identifier system any more credible (“Losing Track,” 8/31). Indeed, the shrillness of his letter is but another indication of how illogical GLAA’s position is. It is false and misleading to claim that names reporting, or a unique-identifier system, will deter people from getting tested for HIV in the District. The truth is that both the Centers for Disease Control and the D.C. Department of Health recommend that anonymous testing, along with confidential testing, be available at any public HIV-testing site. Anonymous HIV tests do not require a person to give name, birth date, Social Security number, country of origin, immigrant status, or any other personal information. The person simply makes up an identifying number and presents that number when he or she returns for the test results. Anonymous HIV testing is just that: anonymous. Anyone who wants an HIV test and is concerned about absolute privacy can simply request an anonymous testing procedure. Thus, HIV surveillance in the District is not a deterrent to people’s getting tested, and to continue using the “deterrence” argument is simply subterfuge.

GLAA and Rosendall’s claim to be concerned about the privacy rights of the District’s black and brown residents is self-serving. The fact is that unless people have the middle-class affluence necessary to avoid public agencies for their HIV care, their names will be in the public health system. At some point, the overwhelming majority of black and brown people living with HIV/AIDS in the District may have to rely on the public health system to pay for their medical and dental care, HIV medications, case management, housing, mental health services, and so forth. To obtain these services, they will have to give their names, addresses, and other personal information.

The CDC has mandated that a state’s unique-identifier system must be able to identify at least 80 percent of the cases sampled. The ability to reach this high standard of reliability is increased if part of testees’ Social Security numbers and countries of origin are included in the unique-identifier codes. If GLAA and Rosendall are willing to jeopardize the District’s future federal funding for HIV prevention by insisting on, and politically maneuvering for, a unique-identifier system that could fail the CDC’s standard of reliability, they are representing the interests of a small affluent minority and not the health care needs of the less affluent majority. That they have the financial resources, and the political clout, to derail effective public health policy makes their statements and actions even more egregious.

The fact is that whether one uses a name-reporting system or a unique-identifier system, HIV-infected people’s names will be recorded. The crucial difference is who will retain the record of the names—the health department or the laboratory that processes the tests and determines the results. Under a unique-identifier system, the laboratory records the person’s name if the test results are positive, develops a unique-identifier code based on the person’s personal information, and then sends that unique-identifier code to the health department. The laboratory has to maintain a log that matches each unique identifier to the name of an actual person in order to prove the reliability of the system. Under a names reporting system, the infected person’s name is sent directly to the health department, and that is the end of it. There is no need for the laboratory, or the testing site, to retain the names of infected individuals. Personally, I would feel more secure having my name recorded in the vault of the D.C. Department of Health, which has never suffered a breach of confidentiality in nearly 20 years, than in the file cabinet of some HIV-testing laboratory.

Finally, that Rosendall would have the audacity to speak as an authority on the publications that are read by black same-gender-loving men, or black men on the “down low,” in this city is the height of arrogance. He is also uninformed of basic sociological and psychological concepts if he does not realize that “gay” is indeed a “white cultural construct.” Rosendall’s comments—and his dishonest use of the word “brothers” in referring to black men—is disingenuous and clear evidence why people with such attitudes cannot provide effective HIV-education and prevention services that target black and brown people, regardless of sexual orientation. Nor should he or GLAA be allowed to speak on behalf of the people of color they so obviously do not represent.

Executive Director

Us Helping Us Inc.