Written by Anthony Parel, Northeastern University Class of 2016, and Winter 2016 Health Law and Policy Intern. Images courtesy of AIDSUnited.
Last month, I stepped into a room where idealism could transform into realism through the voices of the strong and battle-tested. It was in this room where individuals from all across the United States gathered in Washington D.C. for the AIDSWatch conference. AIDSWatch is a HIV/AIDS advocacy event that the Center of Health Law and Policy Innovation, AIDSUnited, and the U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus hosts annually. This gathering convenes people living with HIV and their allies to educate Congressional members and their staff on current issues related to HIV/AIDS. Though distinct in experience and diverse in locality, our message was one and the same – we are here, we have a voice, and we will be heard.
February 29th was the first day of AIDSWatch and it was a day of mixed emotions. Personal stories were shared that helped me visualize the everyday struggles of the people living with HIV/AIDS. When midday came around, everyone separated into his or her respective state delegations to confirm scheduled hill visits. We organized into groups to meet with congressional health staffers and inform them about issues pertaining to HIV/AIDS specific to our state.
Following our state lunch, the conference broke out into networking sessions. The 30 for 30 Campaign networking session, which focused on women living with HIV, was the meeting that particularly struck a chord with me. This session shed light on the specific problems that women living with HIV face when compared to men. I previously did not know a lot of the data provided.
After an eventful first day, we finally separated into our respective state delegations. It was time to share this message with the Senators and Representatives. We went into the Capitol in the early hours of March 1st. We were visible as we walked up Constitution and Independence Avenue wearing red, the color of the red ribbon used to symbolize HIV. Our first meeting was with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s health staffer to discuss the importance of HIV/AIDS funding, HIV criminalization, and stable housing for those with the virus. The meeting went very well and I was surprised to see how knowledgeable the staffer was on current issues that the HIV/AIDS community face. The experience of being on Capitol Hill was one I will not soon forget.
This was not my first time in D.C, but it was the first time I went with a new family. Despite being young and inexperienced, the advocates at AIDSWatch welcomed me with open arms and I quickly realized that it was no longer “me,” it was “we.” We were all allies – lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, cis-gender, black, white, Hispanic, or Asian – our diversity at AIDSWatch mirrors the impact of AIDS on humanity. The stories shared throughout the conference gave credence to the idea that despite our differences in age, income, and ability we stand as one coalition united in the fight to eradicate AIDS.
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