POZ Exclusives : Sean Strub: What's Wrong With Our Movement

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December 5, 2005

Sean Strub: What's Wrong With Our Movement

(A speech delivered December 1, 2005 at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco.)

As we stand here on World AIDS Day, in this magnificent setting, our theme, and my assigned topic, is "Embrace Life." But I may not address it in quite the way the organizers intended. I find it hard to Embrace Life when...

...A judge in Mississippi, this past summer, barred three children from living with their aunt—simply because she has HIV.

I find it hard to Embrace Life when, just two weeks ago, the FDA succumbs to religious conservatives and announces plans to require warning labels on condoms, casting doubts on their effectiveness in preventing disease.  

And how can I “Embrace Life” when last month, Gary Carriker, a gay man living with HIV in Georgia, was sentenced to several years in prison. His crime? Not disclosing he had HIV to sexual partners. None have sero-converted. But that didn’t matter. Nor does it matter, under Georgia and other states’ laws, whether condoms were used. Or how risky or safe their activities were.

These horrific examples of stigma and fear-mongering tell us much about where we are today in fighting AIDS in the United States. Even while there have been important medical advances and expanded access to treatment around the world, people with HIV now face political opposition more extreme than anything we’ve seen since the start of the epidemic.  

This is not just rhetoric. Many of our hardest-won victories, from science-based prevention to health-care access to basic human rights—have, with the rise of George Bush and his evangelical constituency, been rolled back. Five years ago, for example it was unthinkable that America’s war on AIDS would become a war on condoms. Today it hardly makes headlines.  
Today, people with HIV are more stigmatized and less empowered.But ironically, we formed our best strategy to respond to these threats more than two decades ago. And we have forgotten it.

I want to review the roots of our movement, explain how our amnesia has caused this crisis, then propose how, I hope, we can start moving forward again.

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