Open Letter on PACHA Dismissal
Friday, December 29th, 2017
To my beloved community,
On the morning of Thursday, December 27, 2017 I received a letter of dismissal from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. The dismissal of the present PACHA membership, despite the Executive Order continuing the Council to 2019, not only came as a shock to those of us on the Council, but the final dagger in a year-long series of divisive statements and rhetoric attacking the communities most impacted by HIV.
The past two days, I have been trying to gather my thoughts and articulate my feelings around my recent dismissal from the Council and, more generally imagine what the state of HIV and AIDS will look like for me and my community in the years to come.
Appointed in 2015, I was truly honored not only as a citizen of this country, but as an Afro-Latino member of the LGBTQ+ community living with HIV, to have the honor of being a voice on this advisory body. Though we on the Council do not all share identical political ideologies or utilize the same public health strategies, I believe we played a vital role in shaping the health policies impacting the lives of over 1.2 million people living with HIV in America. Over the past year, we have watched the Trump Administration shut down the Office of National AIDS Policy, threaten hundreds of millions in budget cuts to various programs directly and indirectly supporting the fight against HIV, attempt to remove key words from the CDC budget justifications, and to now finally dismiss the federal advisory body focused on this epidemic.
Subsequently following the resignation of six PACHA members in summer of 2017, I was asked by several colleagues and friends why I chose to remain a member. My answer is the same now as it was then — that as a young Black and Latino gay man living with HIV, it is not only my right but my duty to stay in the rooms that many before me have fought to create and that I have fought to step in to. Having navigated the waters of poverty, sexual assault, homophobia, racism and the stigma associated with HIV, these spaces I walk in are truly a dream for so many, particularly young gay men of color. It is my duty to stay in these rooms.
While the dismissal of appointees is standard practice for any new administration, the timing was awkward, and in my estimation, feels like retribution for the outspoken resignation of my colleagues and the vocalization of disagreement by remaining members over the last year to the Administration.
The terms of several members were renewed earlier this year at the first quarter PACHA meeting in Washington D.C., and the President signed an Executive Order on September 29, 2017 re-authorizing the Council. We were given no indication a change was imminent.
At the core of my activism is a sense of belief in my people’s resiliency—Black, Brown, LGBTQ+ folk. It is that resiliency which guides the next generation into a brighter future, but I fear that the horrific attacks and apathetic policies of the present may corrode the moral fiber of this country beyond recognition.
But in the darkest hours of my own reflections, I remember a resounding truth – the people in my community have weathered the storms of oppression having overcome the Jim Crow South and the atrocities of the Civil Rights Movement to Stonewall Riots in 1969. Despite the advancements of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis offering up to 96 percent of protection from transmission for HIV-negative persons and the discovery of viral suppression—which those who are undetectable are virtually non-infectious to the strides we have made with testing and treatment services, advancements in new medications, and the growing advocacy around vulnerable and underserved populations, we must not forget the fight continues. We must acknowledge the unacceptable disparities disproportionately impacting gay men, cis and transgender women, people of color, displaced persons and our youth.
We must never stop fighting for those who are most at risk for HIV. The preservation of this village, especially its young, is paramount to any thriving civilization. Future generations must know they are not alone. To the LGBTQ+ youth of tomorrow, my Black and Brown brothers and sisters, you are not alone. A league of talented activists and advocates are working tirelessly on your behalf.
We will get through every attack, as we always have done—putting one foot in front of the other, walking hand in hand in community as a mobilized unit refusing to accept this bigotry and erasure as “the new normal.” We have come too far and lost too many to give up now. We know that we are our ancestor’s wildest dreams and we will fight to the end to protect it.
Gabriel Maldonado Chief Executive Officer TruEvolution, Inc. ,/p>