The Femo: AIDS and the fiscal cliff


by Ashleigh McEvoy

AIDS activists were arrested in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 27 after conducting a naked demonstration in the office of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio). Three women and four men ditched their clothing to protest funding cuts for HIV/AIDS programs that would result from the impending sequestration — automatic spending cuts and tax increases that will begin in January if Congress cannot agree on an alternative budget.

The fully nude protestors’ bodies bore painted mantras, including “AIDS Cuts Kill,” “Fund HOPWA,” and “Fund Global Fund.” They were joined by clothed activists. The group chanted slogans such as “Boehner, Boehner, don’t be a d***, budget cuts will make us sick!” and “People with AIDS are under attack. What do we do? Fight back!” Capitol Police apprehended the three women and charged them with lewd and indecent acts; the men appeared to have left the building by that point.

Jennifer Flynn, one of the arrested activists, said after the protest, “We are here today to tell the naked truth about these budget cuts. The truth is that people with AIDS have been stripped naked for years — Medicaid has been cut, states are [struggling]. … There are waiting lists in this country where people with AIDS are dying.” The Washington Blade, a Washington, D.C. LGBT news publication, stated in an October article that over 12,000 individuals living with HIV/AIDS could lose access to treatment and other programs if the spending cuts become a reality. In pinpointing this number, the article cites reports made by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

The Blade article also delineates some of the specific funding cuts, citing an AIDS Institute report: “…funding for HIV prevention at the Centers for Disease Control would be cut by $64 million; the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which provides care to low-income people with the disease, would be cut by $196 million, including $77 million in cuts from the AIDS Drug Assistance Program; AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health would be cut by $251 million; and the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS, or HOPWA, program would be cut by $27 million.” Funding for global HIV/AIDS aid and initiatives would also be vastly reduced.

As debates over the fiscal cliff intensify in the next month, it is important to keep the voices of these AIDS activists in mind. Where will low-income, HIV-positive patients obtain counseling, medical care, and support if these organizations lose their funding? How many people will have to forgo health care — or see their care quality decline — if Medicaid is cut? What about the individuals in foreign countries whose access to contraception and education about sexually transmitted diseases depends on our global health initiatives? Does the HIV/AIDS community wield enough political influence to defend its funding? Are we willing to pay the price for partisan bickering with a rising death toll among one of our most vulnerable populations? We must hope that AIDS activists have enough allies in Congress to prevent this outcome — and we must pressure our representatives to do so.


photo of John Boehner by Gage Skidmore: