Our Oral History Interview with Curtis Wadlington is now indexed and text-searchable at the African American AIDS History Project! Thanks to generous support from the Chris Webber Memorial Fund, we have been able to move forward with making the interviews for this project more accessible and usable through the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer. Thanks to Maria Santiago for her hard work indexing this interview—we’ll have more indexed interviews to share with you soon!
Considering the impact of the AIDS epidemic on African-American history.
Today at OutHistory’s blog, I (Dan) have a piece up about Ferguson, queer gentrification, and LGBT history, including AIDS and its disproportionate impact on queer African Americans. Go check it out!
African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project narrator Michael Hinson and Lisa Fader Bediako argue that HIV criminalization laws constitute a new prison pipeline for black men, on Global Grind.
This month (February 7th) marked the sixteenth annual observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). HIV/AIDS, once considered a “gay white man” disease, is still consistently on the rise in black American communities across the US. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports “of all racial/ethnic groups in the US, blacks have the highest HIV burden and higher proportions of new infections and deaths.” Although improvements in HIV treatment over the last 30 years have transformed HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable, chronic condition, a troubling trend is emerging: HIV criminalization.
Currently, 33 states and two territories have laws criminalizing HIV. HIV criminalization has often resulted in gross human rights violations, including harsh sentencing for behaviors that pose little or no risk of HIV transmission, including: A man with HIV in Texas who is now serving 35 years for spitting at a police…
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The final design for the New York City AIDS Memorial, which will sit at the intersection of West 12th and Greenwich Avenue in the West Village, has been unveiled. The memorial will occupy a triangular site near the former St. Vincent’s Hospital, which offered treatment for people with AIDS early in the epidemic. As one commenter snarked on Architectural Record, the canopy in the new public park bears an unfortunate resemblance to a bus shelter, whereas the (more attractive, in my opinion) original winning design (also by Studio a+i) consisted of a grove of trees surrounded by three large mirrors, giving the effect of an “Infinite Forest.”
The memorial raises questions about how to commemorate an epidemic that has so thoroughly devastated New York City, and where 1.4 of the city’s population (and 5% of Chelsea residents) today is reportedly living with HIV. Does the construction of a memorial further contribute to our sense of living in a “post-AIDS” world (which the advent of life-saving drugs in the late 1990s seem to inaugurate) while the epidemic rages among white gay men as well as in the most disenfranchised communities? Does placing the memorial in a wealthy, gentrified section of the city erase the loss experienced by other parts of the city that have also been heavily affected–say, Harlem or the Bronx? I realize the irony of my asking the first question, as someone actively involved in recording and writing the history of AIDS in US communities of color, but I think it’s one that the idea of the memorial encourages us to consider. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that San Francisco has had its “living memorial” in Golden Gate Park since 1991.
From actup.org, a bonus rendering of the memorial at night! The lighting on the structure does make it seem somewhat less like a bus terminal.
I hate to follow up a post about moving on from the ignorance of the past with something that strongly suggests a return to past ignorance, but the Kansas state legislature seems likely to pass a bill that would allow for the quarantine of people with HIV, along with hepatitis B and C, and tuberculosis. The bill itself eliminates the court order presently necessary for emergency personnel to have a patient tested for certain infections when the personnel have been exposed to said patient’s blood. Critics like D. Charles Hunt, Director of the Kansas Bureau of Epidemiology and Public Health Informatics, and Cody Patton of the AIDS service organization Positive Directions, Inc. say the law will put people with HIV at risk for intimidation and discrimination, especially in rural areas where people may be ignorant of how HIV is spread. Of course, HIV is not transmitted in the same way a tuberculosis, and emergency personnel using universal blood precautions are at essentially no risk of contracting the virus from an HIV-positive person. Even in the case of an accidental needle stick or scalpel cut, post-exposure prophylaxis is available, and dramatically reduces the probability of transmission. So it seems that ignorance about HIV is a problem in Topeka, too.
One thing that comes up consistently in oral histories is the problem of conspiracy theories around HIV and AIDS in black communities. These can take many forms, from the idea that the government created the virus to the suspicion that a cure exists but is being withheld because the epidemic has been immensely profitable for the pharmaceutical industry. Studies have shown that belief in such theories correlates to lower adherence to HIV medications, which in turn can quickly limit the range of medical options people have to treat their HIV disease. A friend in medical school told me that he has seen people–young people–on AZT as a treatment of last resort because non-adherence to their drug regimen rendered all of the newer, better, less toxic medicines ineffective.
Conspiracy theories about HIV among African Americans don’t come from nowhere–they emerge from the collective, historical memory of slavery, Jim Crow, “Mississippi appendectomies” (i.e. forced sterilizations), and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, as well as the everyday racism that African Americans encounter in medical settings. But that doesn’t let the government off the hook for actually making them seem more valid with laws like this one.
Given that treatment adherence is hard enough for some folks as it, and that adherence to a drug regimen a) prolongs the life of PWAs and b) likely prevents new HIV infections by lowering the viral loads of HIV-positive people, Blue Cross has so much blood on its hands. Can we get a phone zap up in here?
Once again, Blue Cross has created a new “tier” of pharmacy benefits – Tier 4, a.k.a. “specialty” drugs a.k.a. a long list of medications for the treatment of HIV (they’ve included a few cancer and other drugs as well – though literally every single medication used for the treatment of HIV is now Tier 4) and for which there are no alternative or generic medications.
And what is different about this tier? Well, rather than a standard co-pay (it was $30.00 per prescription in 2012), patients are required to pay 20% of the cost of the medication or $150 maximum. Since all of the medications are expensive, the bottom line is that most co-payments are $150 or close to it, i.e. a 400% increase in out-of-pocket expenses for those being treated for HIV. In other words, Blue Cross has specifically targeted their most vulnerable patients as a new source…
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