ACT UP AIDS Activist’s Letter To Hillary Clinton

” I have been fighting for my life since Reagan was in office. I remember the conversation about AIDS Nancy Reagan started–I remember the dark black wind of nothingness,” Matt Ebert

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 9.16.03 AMDemocratic candidate for the United States presidency, former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton praised Nancy Reagan for “starting the conversation on AIDS” in a press interview at Nancy Reagan’s funeral. Nothing could be further from the truth:   Nancy Regan was deathly silent on AIDS,  as was her husband President Ronald Reagan, and the two were abhorred by the gay and AIDS activist community for the excruciating consequences and the cruel recklessness of their slipshod stance.

Later the same day, Clinton issued an apology saying that she ‘misspoke.’ The Clinton campaign issued a detailed statement espousing all the positive aspects of Sec. Clinton’s work on HIV/ AIDS. However the Statement, which I read on someone’s Facebook page, missed the point. In fact not only can I not find the statement on Clinton’s campaign website  – it seems AIDS is not only NOT a priority, but appears nowhere as a headlining issue.  The list of issues is in Alphabetical order and Alzheimer’s tops it:

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What Sec. Clinton may not realize is that her misstatement speaks volumes about her conscience and her sincerity and where AIDS stands now as a priority. For many of us living though the epidemic in the 80’s, the Reagan cruelty is etched firmly in our minds. As for Clinton, her negligent misspeak goes to the root of trust and the current injustices that still plague the AIDS world.  While some may be forgiving,  and some may not – this is an opportunity for Clinton to go further.

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 10.59.04 AMThe chastisement and opportunities could not be better elucidated than by this open letter written to the Secretary by Matt Ebert, a 50 year old AIDS activist, an original ACT UP member, a writer and a farmer.

Dear Secretary Clinton,

With your recent statement about the legacy of Nancy Reagan so fresh in my mind, I am writing to ask you to do something more than tweet an apology to my community. I’m asking you to do something about HIV/AIDS, something no candidate has yet committed to doing, and no POTUS has been able to do so far–end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The Reagans had a unique position in history, they could have turned the tide on AIDS, but they didn’t. What they did, and what they said, is shameful–and as you know during their time in office thousands of Americans died. Since then, America has lost well over 650,000 to AIDS. And the death toll, and the toll on this nation, has not changed in thirty-five years. The toll on black gay men, on homeless youth, on transgender women–these are real people facing profoundly higher risk today–when we have treatment that could save our lives, and socio-economic barriers blocking access, we need a POTUS who will lead us out of this miasma of suffering–the exact opposite of the Reagan administration.

When Martin Shkreli raised the price of an HIV drug at Turing Labs, you rightly went mad with rage. Shkreli was roundly criticized, arrested for fraud, and your rival Bernie Sanders took the check Shkreli gave his campaign and gave it to an HIV Clinic. In 2016, you have raised more campaign cash from large pharmaceutical companies than any other candidate. When do you return that check? Prove to us what you have insisted all along, that money cannot buy your vote–prove this by making a commitment to ending HIV/AIDS.

It’s time to talk about Gilead Sciences–maker of Truvada (PrEP)–and the prices Gilead is charging for this drug, and all of their HIV/AIDS medications. It’s time for a candidate to challenge Gilead about their pricing of Harvoni, a cure for Hep-C. The single largest impediment to access to treatment for HIV and Hep-C patients is the prices Gilead charges for their drugs. It’s time to ask why Congress is not investigating Gilead. It’s time to threaten revocation of patents, break up their monopoly on HIV, if Gilead does not make these life saving treatments available to all. We can no longer allow one company to control five out of six of the first line patents for HIV treatment, and the only known prophylaxis for HIV–Truvada. It’s time to rein in Gilead’s price lock on our lives.

When the U.S. Senate, in a bi-partisan investigation of Gilead’s pricing of Sovaldi, condemned the company and found evidence that Gilead priced their drugs in a manner that would assure no end to Hep-C–no one budged. No candidate stumped, and no one screamed but those of us who rely on Gilead drugs for our lives. Like the 1980’s, we are shouting in a vacuum all over again–prove to me that someone is listening and condemn Gilead Sciences. Talk about PrEP, PEP, and TASP, and you will flout Nancy Reagan’s bitter legacy.

I am asking you to not only revise your thinking about the Reagans, I am asking you to go one better and commit to ending HIV/AIDS and Hep-C. This you must do, because you can–because the tools and treatments are available–what we lack is leadership and focus–access and accountability. It would be the best way to assure my community you mean business when you say you misspoke about Nancy Reagan, and that you not only want our vote–you’ll fight for it.

I have been fighting for my life since Reagan was in office. I remember the conversation about AIDS Nancy Reagan started–I remember the dark black wind of nothingness. I remember watching my young friends die, their bodies loaded into lawn and leaf bags and dragged to Potter’s Field. And as the years past and the Reagans silence roared, it grew dense, it echoed like a fallen tree in a primeval forest where no one heard. As a result of the inaction from the Reagan administration over thirty-five million people are infected with HIV, and forty million have died worldwide.

Nancy Reagan’s AIDS legacy was nonexistent–she started nothing–in a letter to Rock Hudson’s friend she pined: “I cannot do something for him that I wouldn’t do for anyone else.” And she was right–she did nothing for him, and she did nothing for anyone else. I urge you to remember that history, never forget it, as I cannot forget thirty-five years later. I dream of dead flowers, I dream of it ending, and I urge you to do something more than tweet an apology–talk about AIDS, talk about drug pricing and access to healthcare for all people at risk for the virus. Talk about what you’re going to do–then do it.

Allowing Medicare to negotiate prices is just the beginning. We’re going to need policies ensuring that any cost savings are reinvested in the systems of care and support–including robust community infrastructure–that people living with, and vulnerable to, HIV infection need. Pledge to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a way that Nancy Reagan never could, and you will finally be the candidate who earns both forgiveness and my vote.

Matt Ebert.

Perhaps Sec. Hillary  Clinton and her rivals will see her mistake as an opportunity to do much more to change the  fact that AIDS, until completely eradicated,  has yet to be seen as a top priority in and of itself. If it were a priority it would sit above “Alzheimer’s” in her list of issues. But it has no mention.

Melanie Nathan: commissionermnathan@gmail.com


4 thoughts on “ACT UP AIDS Activist’s Letter To Hillary Clinton

  1. Clinton does include info about AIDS on her site, but as a topic under the LGBT equality heading rather than as a top-level issue. Apparently she still only sees it as a “gay disease.”

    1. Yes and if she can single Alzheimer’s out as a priority issue – she should NOW show her remorse and regain trust through making AIDS a stand alone issue – which will place it above Alzheimer’s by vurtue of its position in the alphabet.

  2. Thank you for sharing this Melanie. Those of us who lived through this will never forget.
    Silence = Death
    That was our mantra during former PM Mulroney’s years here in Canada, when he and his preacher/health minister Jake Epp, together with their very best friends Ronnie and Nancy Reagan in the USA were deaf to our calls for urgent action in the early days of the public health disaster that was the AIDS pandemic.
    Unlike in Australia, because both the US and Canadian governments ignored activists calls for urgent prevention action, no plainly spoken prevention messaging went out to the population as soon as we knew how the virus was transmitted. Thousands died needlessly in North America. America influences its neighbour to the north a great deal, particularly when their leadership act in sync.
    Here in Ottawa, and in many other communities, only the lucky few who had access to local LGBT papers, or those who attended our LGBT public alert meetings got correct prevention information. While our LGBT communities did what we could with very few resources, it would be many many more years before government funding would become available.

  3. I too lived through those dark days and thank Melanie and Matt for giving voice to those of us who cared for the sick, buried our friends and ACTed-UP while the Reagans turned a blind eye. I do hope Hillary has learned that our communities’ memories are not to be trifled with.

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