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Two years ago, when Mayor Williams agreed with the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) in opposing names-based HIV reportingdespite a months-long propaganda campaign by his staffer Ron Lewisit wasn’t just GLAA’s superior organizing and a near-unanimous D.C. Council that persuaded him (“Losing Track,” 8/31). We had done our homework, and we had both the evidence and the vast majority of AIDS advocacy organizations in the country on our side.
Ron Lewis’ scare-mongering did indeed sway many black AIDS leaders in the District (who depended on him to make their payrolls), and at a crucial meeting on the subject with the mayor, I was greatly outnumbered as GLAA’s representative. Fortunately, as the mayor said that day, he wasn’t just counting headshe was weighing the merits of the matter. At a subsequent meeting that I arranged, Catalina Sol of La Clinica del Pueblo described a client survey (as reported in your article) showing that 85 percent of Latino clients would avoid getting tested if they knew their names would be reported to the government.
Although names reporting was defeated two years ago as a matter of District policy, Ron Simmons of Us Helping Us continues to address the issue in a reckless way that slanders GLAA. Simmons repeatedly responds to GLAA’s substantive arguments by changing the subject and questioning our motives. Stooping to racist insults (and ignoring our long list of nonwhite allies), he suggests that we care only about white people. Given that I am well-insured, HIV-negative, and as out of the closet as you can get, I am at a loss to understand how my opposition to names-based reporting could possibly be motivated by selfishness. For many years, GLAA’s AIDS advocacy has emphasized the city’s highest-risk populations, which are precisely the ones most likely to be deterred by names reporting from getting tested in the first place. Not bothered by the facts, Simmons simply pretends that it is relatively privileged whites who are most concerned about privacy, when, if anything, their very privilege makes whites less likely to worry about their names’ being reported.
For a long time now, Simmons’ group, using a public grant, has placed a half-page ad every week in the Washington Blade targeting black men “on the down low”that is, closeted men who are in denial about their sexuality (and who are only encouraged in this denial by those who promulgate the nonsense that “gay” is a white cultural construct). These men are in the highest at-risk group for AIDSexcept, perhaps, for their wives and girlfriends. If these brothers are on the down low, does Simmons really think they are reading the Blade? Tell my GLAA colleagues and me that we are wrong, call us racists when you lack arguments as well as scruples, but you cannot accuse us of wasting public health funds by placing ads that the intended readers are unlikely ever to see. By contrast, GLAA is composed entirely of unpaid volunteers who do our well-informed advocacy in our spare time.
Simmons falsely states, “The people who were against names reporting are against surveillance in general, and therefore, whatever you come up with, they are not going to be happy.” In fact, GLAA does support HIV surveillance. We have significant concerns about the proposed system, which will be a deterrent to prevention and treatment efforts. We also have concerns about case reporting (names or unique identifiers) in general.
Vice President for Political Affairs
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance