Lambda Issues 1999 World AIDS Day Report Card

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Lackluster Gore; Bush flunks; Coretta Scott King aces making homophobia-AIDS link

Date

Date: 
12/01/1999

(NEW YORK) — Texas Gov. George W. Bush flunked and Vice President Al Gore did just slightly better on the annual World AIDS Day Report Card released by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in advance of the December 1 worldwide observance.

"World AIDS Day is an opportunity to assess efforts against AIDS," said Lambda Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart, referring to the commemoration set for Wednesday. "This year, we find hope in a national resurgence of activism. But people's lives continue to be endangered by callous and compromising public officials," he said.

For the last four years, the nation's oldest and largest legal group serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS has issued the Lambda World AIDS Day Report Card, grading public policy efforts and highlighting important trends in treatment, prevention, and civil rights.

Just weeks after failing a foreign affairs pop quiz during a televised interview, Gov. Bush received an F on the Lambda report card for his push for so-called "abstinence education," an approach based on subjective moralizing rather than effective techniques designed to help young people avoid HIV infection. The leading Republican presidential candidate promises to let religious organizations get federal funds to support such abstinence-only programs.

Meanwhile, Vice President Gore received a C for retreating from his strong record on AIDS issues and siding with pharmaceutical companies out to block South Africa from producing affordable, generic versions of HIV treatments for its citizens.

The Democratic primary candidate backed down only under pressure from the activist coalition AIDS Drugs for Africa, which earned an A for its efforts and includes consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Doctors Without Borders, winner of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize.

AIDS Drugs for Africa mounted a visible campaign that forced the United States to drop threats of trade sanctions against the African nation with one of the highest infection rates in the world.

The United Nations recently reported that 33.6 million people worldwide, including 1.2 million children, are HIV-positive, and that 2.2 million people died of AIDS last year.

In total, Lambda handed out 22 grades to a wide range of groups and individuals working on AIDS-related issues, with many of the exemplary marks going to activists and advocacy groups working to reduce infection rates in various communities.

Lambda AIDS Project Director Catherine Hanssens said, "In 1999, we witnessed a new wave of street activism; small but well-organized, persistent and very vocal activists had a powerful impact on some very important national issues and policies."

Hanssens added, "Advocates in several states have also developed coalitions with local physicians and health officials on syringe exchange projects -- demonstrating the importance of local activism in response to government inaction on this critical form of prevention."

She noted, however, that exemplary needle exchange programs -- like the one administered by the Minnesota Department of Public Health with the Minnesota AIDS Project, which also received an A grade - are hampered by laws in eight states that criminalize the purchase of syringes without a prescription. Among them are California, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, states with some of the highest rates of HIV infection in the country.

Others receiving A's for their advocacy work include Coretta Scott King and Housing Works, the bold New York agency that provides housing and other services to people with HIV.

Mrs. King took issue with African-American leaders who are not active against AIDS even as African Americans make up half of new AIDS cases and AIDS-related deaths. In October, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I have no doubt that homophobia has worsened and prolonged the AIDS crisis. It is sad to me when I hear black people, including some in leadership positions, making homophobic comments and attacking the human rights of gay and lesbian people."

Housing Works was cited for assisting poor people with HIV in the face of efforts by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to curb their rights and services. The non-profit agency lost valuable city contracts because of its advocacy, but its impressive record includes razing bureaucratic barriers that prevented people from receiving public assistance, and affirming the right to hold protests in front of City Hall.

More A's were awarded to Beverly Henry and Judy Ricci, inmate-activists in California; Veronika Cauley, a transgender outreach worker in San Francisco; California HMO reformer Tom Swann; and people participating in the first large-scale clinical trials of an AIDS vaccine.

Added Cathcart, "The courage and resourcefulness of these activists is a lesson about the power of individuals to win change. Hopefully, their work will inspire others until the AIDS crisis is truly over."

Also earning top grades were the National Urban League, Gay Men of African Descent, and more than 100 other signatories to last April's joint statement urging the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health agencies to reject names-based HIV reporting.

Other failures for 1999 included New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman for jailing a needle exchange activist who had received an A in last year's report card, and to the New York City Board of Education for installing Internet filters that block safer-sex information.

Making a repeat appearance on the report card, insurance giant Mutual of Omaha kept its dunce cap for defending discriminatory limits on HIV-related medical care. Meanwhile, HIV treatments, touted by some as a possible cure just a few years ago, showed need for dramatic improvement to eliminate life-threatening side effects and a 50 percent failure rate.

Founded in 1973, Lambda is headquartered in New York and has regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta.

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Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)

Contact: Catherine Hanssens 212-809-8585 x 215


 

LAMBDA LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND
AIDS DAY REPORT CARD 1999
December 1 marks World AIDS Day around the globe.
This year and every year since 1988, we remember loved ones who have passed away, celebrate those still living with HIV or AIDS, and redouble our commitment to fight the disease.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the nation's oldest and largest legal organization serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS, commemorates this day with an annual report card ranking high-achievers and failures in this life and death struggle.

POLICY, POLITICS & THE LAW
Gov. George W. Bush
F
Pop quiz for the leading Republican presidential candidate: what do public health officials overwhelmingly say will curb HIV rates among adolescents? Answer: safer-sex education. But Bush sought to cut funding for health clinics in Texas schools, and if elected, promises to promote so-called "abstinence education," funding religious groups to administer those programs.
Gov. Christie Todd Whitman
F
Her administration allowed Diane McCague, director of the Chai Project needle exchange programs and a recipient of an "A" in Lambda's 1998 report card, to be arrested and jailed. The New Jersey Republican has effectively shut down clean syringe access throughout the state.
Vice President Al Gore
C
Usually an ally of people with HIV, this Democrat sided with the pharmaceutical industry and bullied South Africa for trying to produce cheap, generic AIDS Drugs. He backed down only after prolonged protests from AIDS activists.

NBC, GE & Rockefeller Center
C
After scheduling their famous Christmas tree lighting for the evening of World AIDS Day - the "Night Without Light" when homes, businesses, even the Empire State Building turn dark - the media conglomerate agreed to turn off the tree for one minute in memory of those who have died.
U.S. Supreme Court
C
The High Court issued mixed rulings on the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The justices affirmed ADA protections for people on Social Security and those in state mental institutions, yet drastically scaled back the law for workers whose disabilities can be alleviated. What will these rulings mean for people with HIV? With two HIV cases now seeking the Court's review, stay tuned.
U.S. Congress
C
Looks like people with HIV will no longer have to choose between work and health care, thanks to Congressional approval of a bill to let people receiving Medicaid and Medicare keep their coverage when they go back to work. It was hardly a stellar year for the legislature, however, with their continued insistence on abstinence education instead of safer sex, and the failure of medical privacy legislation.

 

Gov. Gray Davis
B
California's freshman governor signed bills allowing cities and counties to support needle exchange, letting people with HIV keep Medi-Cal benefits and return to work, and making new drugs available sooner through state assistance programs. However, he temporarily passed on a bill rejecting names-based HIV reporting. Let's see how he does next year.
Housing Works
A
The agency that provides critical services and helps find housing for New Yorkers with HIV has earned a reputation for in-your-face advocacy. In 1999, it scored several big legal victories over Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, breaking down barriers for poor people with HIV who need public assistance and reaffirming the right to hold demonstrations on the steps of City Hall.
Coretta Scott King
A
A strong supporter of lesbians and gay men, Mrs. King is outspoken in the African-American community on behalf of people with AIDS. Paraphrasing her late husband, she warns that the biggest enemy in the fight against AIDS is the silence of good people who sit by and do nothing.
Beverly Henry and Judy Ricci
A
These two inmates at the Central California Women's Facility are also grassroots educators and activists, circulating the latest treatment information for HIV and Hepatitis C, and agitating for better access to medical care for prisoners.
Veronika Cauley
A
She is a fierce outreach worker trying to curb HIV in San Francisco's transgender community- an estimated 63% of whom are HIV-positive. Currently the commissioner of veterans affairs, Cauley seems on track to becoming the city's first transgender supervisor.
Chip Rowan
A
This southern lawyer founded the AIDS Legal Project of Atlanta Legal Aid eleven years ago, bringing both technical mastery and formidable zeal to the battle against discrimination. As Lambda's cooperating attorney, Rowan represents Spencer Waddell, a dental hygienist fired because he has HIV.
Parole Board, Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation and Correction
A
Refusing to give in to irrational AIDS-phobia, the board granted parole to Jimmy Bird, Lambda's HIV-positive client who was alleged to have spit on a police officer and convicted of a felonious assault.
PREVENTION
New York City Board of Education
F
It wants the Information Superhighway to bypass New York City schools. Already failing to provide adequate safer-sex education, these know-nothings are installing Internet filters on school computers that censor many valuable resources including AIDS education websites.
National Urban League, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care, Harvard AIDS Institute, Latino Commission on AIDS, and Gay Men of African Descent . . .
A
. . . and one hundred-plus other national and local organizations, health care providers, community leaders and public officials who stood up to oppose the misguided push for names-based reporting of HIV test results. In a broadly distributed consensus letter, they urged the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the NY State Department of Health, and other government agencies to consider scientifically sound and proven surveillance and prevention efforts instead.
Thousands of Volunteer Participants in Vaccine Clinical Trials
A
Undaunted by society's irrational AIDS phobia, these altruistic individuals are using their bodies and their time to help find a safe and effective HIV vaccine. Kudos also to the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition for pushing research issues front and center.
Minnesota Dept. of Public Health and the Minnesota AIDS Project
A
Their partnership created a model syringe access and disposal plan. (Forty-two states have decriminalized non-prescription purchase of clean syringes as study after study has shown such programs dramatically decrease infection rates among injection drug users without increasing illegal drug use.)
TREATMENT, RESEARCH AND ACCESS
Schering-Plough
F
An estimated 40% of people with HIV also have Hepatitis C, and most rely on a combination of two drugs, ribavirin and interferon, for treatment. Schering-Plough, the only maker of ribavirin, has "bundled" it in a wildly overpriced package - $1,600/month - with its own brand of the more widely available interferon. Although New York's PWA Health Group has made imported ribavirin available at a fraction of the cost, Schering's practice sets a nasty and dangerous precedent for all patients.
Mutual of Omaha
F
Left back last year and still flunking. The insurance giant puts lifetime caps on HIV-care as low as $25,000 while covering most other claims at $1-million or more. Mutual admits to saving no money with this scheme, so why the limits? Maybe the U.S. Supreme Court will want to find out.
"Miracle" Drugs
C
Many lives have been prolonged, but these drugs are not the miraculous cure some would like to believe. Dangerous side effects include fatty-deposits and increased risk for liver and heart disease, and treatment failure rates are at least 50%.
Doctors Without Borders, Ralph Nader, and Other Members of AIDS Drugs for Africa
A
This national coalition of advocacy groups forced changes in U.S. trade policies to allow South Africa, with one of the highest HIV transmission rates in the world, to produce cheap, generic versions of AIDS drugs. A tenacious group with a knack for stealing media attention from Al Gore. Who said AIDS activism was dead?
Tom Swann
A
The California crusader for HMO reform sued Blue Cross of California after insensitive doctors refused to treat AIDS-related blindness in his left eye. Lost his sight and his case but the outcry from his lawsuit forced Blue Cross to begin referring AIDS patients to HIV-care specialists.
KEY TO GRADES

A for achievement and vital results in the fight against HIV and AIDS
B for better than average effort, with room for improvement
C for compromise - a deadly word with 33.6 million people infected with HIV worldwide
F for flunkies, who failed to help, prolonging suffering as the epidemic rages

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