Yesterday, for the second year in a row, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence — a politician who practically relishes in his abysmal track record on issues of LGBTQ importance — failed to reference the queer community in his remarks concerning World AIDS Day.
The only person who could have been more inappropriate to speak on the importance of World AIDS Day (which Hornet argues should be renamed “World HIV Day”) than Mike Pence — a man who has devoted time and energy to sabotaging HIV prevention efforts and is himself saddled with the shame of propagating HIV in his home state of Indiana — would have been the president himself, as, let’s face it, Donald Trump more than likely has no clue how HIV is even transmitted.
But that didn’t stop the U.S. Vice President from crowing to a room full of people and cameras — two days before the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day — that we are now closer than ever to ending the HIV crisis.
Yeah, we are. With absolutely no thanks to him.
It’s disgusting enough that anyone could honor World AIDS Day, particularly on an anniversary as important as 2018, without mentioning the community of people — queer Americans — who were most drastically affected by its wake in this country.
But Pence’s silence — never once mentioning “LGBT” or the thousands of gay men lost in the HIV epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s — will not be forgiven, and will not be shoved under the rug. It didn’t take long before the Democratic National Committee responded to the VP’s utter callousness, in addition to pointing out the lies he told from the podium and “the truths he forgot to mention.”
In addition to “honoring” World AIDS Day in his speech yesterday, Pence called out the 15th anniversary of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a government initiative to address the global fight against HIV and AIDS, primarily in Africa. That mention, in which he referred to PEPFAR as “one of the most successful investments in health care and humanitarian aid in American history,” took some real nerve seeing as how the Trump administration actually proposed slashing the initiative’s funding. The Daily Beast noted such a cut could result in 300,000 people dead per year.
VP Pence also talked up the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, the country’s largest federally funded program for those living with HIV, which — again — is a program the Trump administration has practically gutted. Hornet has reported that those Ryan White funds were actually diverted to offset the high costs of Trump’s family separation policy. Uninsured Americans living with HIV aren’t seeing that money, which is instead being used to place children in cages.
As the DNC points out, here are some of the things Mike Pence failed to mention from the podium:
Trump fired the remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS after several members quit because Trump “doesn’t care” about the issue.
Trump still hasn’t appointed anyone to lead the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.
Trump announced the “Deploy or Get Out” rule, which could remove HIV-positive military personnel from service.
While we know the Trump administration is doing no favors for the fight against HIV, Mike Pence himself has been an enemy of HIV prevention since long before his days in the White House.
Way back in 2000, when Pence was running for Congress, he suggested that Ryan White funds be audited — “to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus” — which is, you know, code language for “gay stuff.” Instead he felt those funds should go to a more worthy cause: conversion therapy.
In 2011, it was Mike Pence, then a House representative for Indiana, who wrote the amendment that defunded Planned Parenthood. Clinics across the country were shutdown, some of which were the only places for locals to get tested for HIV.
For more than 16 years, Pence has been a voice of support for abstinence-only education, at one point telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “Frankly, condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases.” That, of course, is a downright ridiculous thing to say.
The Huffington Post has deftly called out that in 2003 Pence argued the Bush administration should favor abstinence-only education over condom distribution to solve Africa’s HIV/AIDS crisis. (Seriously. And he said that on the floor of the House of Representatives.)
In 2015, Pence’s opposition to a needle exchange program that exacerbated local Indiana HIV rates (200 new cases) has proven to be a legacy of his time as that state’s governor. (Well, that and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act he signed that resulted in a $250 million economic panic in the state.)
Of course, what can we expect from Mike Pence, a man who thinks prayer is a valid form of HIV prevention?
As easy as it is to say the Trump administration should “do better” in future commemorations of World AIDS Day, such a sentiment is futile.
The current administration of the United States actively fights against scientific progress on a daily basis, against the LGBTQ community’s right to live happy and healthy lives and, as is easily discernible, against the best paths that would lead us all to an HIV-free world.