White House Announces Obama Will Skip International AIDS Conference Same Day FDA Approves Historic HIV Prevention Drug

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Steven Thrasher
Lots of big news from the White House yesterday about HIV/AIDS.

In the morning, the White House blasted out a press release with some historic news from the Food and Drug Administration: the FDA had approved Truvada, "the first drug -- to reduce the risk of HIV infection in uninfected individuals who are at high risk of HIV infection and who may engage in sexual activity with HIV-infected partners."

Having recently written about How To Survive a Plague, one of the documentaries about the heyday of ACT-UP, we find it pretty amazing to see how far HIV management medication has come since those days. But after great progress, the rate of new HIV infections in the United States has been stubbornly lodged around 50,000 for the past few years. A preventative drug for people to take before they become infected with HIV has been sought for a long time and could finally provide a measure of movement in reducing new infections.

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How To Survive a Plague: Queer Activism Before 'Gay Inc.' Bought It Off

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courtesy Sundance Selects
Peter Staley in David France's How To Survive A Plague

Two things starkly colored my experience as I went to a screening of David France's fascinating documentary How to Survive a Plague, about the heyday of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), earlier this week.The first was seeing the film through the prism of my feature article in last week's Voice Pride issue, "Does 'Gay Inc.' Believe in Free Speech?" The correlations between the questions the film explored and my article raised of queer activism (and, in a few cases, the actual same activists) were for me many.

I've also never had such a strong experience of feeling like I was watching my current day to day life replicated onscreen, although experienced in a different era and under different circumstances (like in a sci-fi, parallel universe) as when I was watching How to Survive A Plague. Part of this is because David France wrote the first articles in the Voice about ACT UP 25 years ago and my reporting, on similar topics, owes a great deal to his legacy at this publication. Most eerily, I'd spent the day before I saw the film at the Pride march talking for a good thirty minutes to State Senator Tom Duane. The loquacious politician was waxing especially freely as he contemplated his last Pride before leaving the Senate and reflected on his life in politics as the parade passed by. We stood talking about the fights for gay marriage in New York and the right to be able to openly serve in the military in the past tense. To see him the next day in the film at least 20 year earlier, young and lithe (and long before drug cocktails gave any hope to those with HIV), was startling.


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Failed War On Drugs Contributing To AIDS Epidemic: Report

Categories: AIDS, Drugs
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The Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report this afternoon that shows how the failed "war on drugs" is contributing to the AIDS epidemic amongst intravenous drug users and their sexual partners (you can review the entire report below).

The Commission, which is made up of the who's who of former presidents and United Nations aide workers, finds that "repressive" law enforcement practices steer drug addicts away from safe treatment facilities and into "hidden environments," where the risk of contracting HIV is heightened. 

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, which provided the Voice with a copy of the report, 33 million people across the globe currently are living with HIV. Of those 33 million, intravenous drug use accounts for one-third of new HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa.



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ACT UP Did March for Single-Payer Health Care

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In this week's Pride Issue feature "Does 'Gay Inc.' Believe in Free Speech?" we report about how the mainstream gay organizations, even the AIDS groups, were largely absent from Zuccotti Park in 2011 and were not advocating a single-payer option during 2010's raging health care debates.

Reader Eustacia Smith wrote to inform us that ACT UP New York did march for single-payer healthcare.

Earlier in our article, we'd written:

Today's movement is quite unlike ACT UP, the Gay Liberation Front, or the Mattachine Society. In their use of confrontation, those groups looked far more like Occupy Wall Street than the Human Rights Campaign. Today's gay organizations tend to present queer voices that are well polished and well financed.
Because of this, we didn't consider ACT UP to be part of what we were later discussing about today's big gay organizations, as it was never part of 'Gay Inc.'

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Aundaray Guess, Artist and Writer, on Graduating from NYU as an Adult with HIV

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Twenty-five years ago, Aundaray Guess started college at the age of 19. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with HIV and dropped out of school. Guess, who is from Minneapolis, then got kicked out of his house when his mom found out about his status and sexuality.

For months, he slept in his car and applied for job after job until he was hired by a community theater. It was there that Guess began writing plays and launched Flayva Cabaret, a company focused on LGBT artists of color. About 11 years ago, Guess decided to move to New York for a life change. But it wasn't until a chance encounter at a drug store that he also decided to return to school and complete his degree.

Guess graduated from New York University with a social science degree on Monday, and received extensive academic accolades. The Voice caught up with him to talk about the challenges of going to school as an adult with HIV.

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HIV/AIDS Protestors Descend on Robert Doar's Home, Commute

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Courtesy of VOCAL-NY
Commissioner Robert Doar, surrounded by protestors this morning.
And you thought your morning commute was rough.

HIV/AIDS activists from Voices Of Community Advocates & Leaders (VOCAL-NY) -- an organization that advocates for the rights of HIV-positive New Yorkers -- got up bright and early this to stakeout and protest Human Resources Administration Commissioner Robert Doar at his Brooklyn Heights home before he left for work.

And they found him.

Not satisfied with simply protesting outside his home, the group of 50 or so activists, armed with their vocal chords and noisemakers, followed him into the Clark Street 2/3 subway station and rode with him all the way to his office in lower Manhattan. Protesting him. The entire time.

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Leaked City Document Sparks Fears And Frustrations for New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS

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Sam Levin
Advocacy group VOCAL-NY at a City Hall rally earlier this year.
An HIV/AIDS advocacy group has got its hands on an internal government document that the group says is cause for major concern -- and not just because the city is making policy changes behind closed doors, advocates said today.

Voices Of Community Advocates & Leaders (VOCAL-NY), an organization that advocates for the rights of HIV-positive New Yorkers, released a document last night that organizers say outlines a risky restructuring of the city agency responsible for supporting this population.

The document, a letter from the Human Resources Administration commissioner to "senior staff," with the subject "Agency Reorganization," lays out a plan to alter the oversight system for New Yorkers who rely on the HIV/AIDS Services Administration, or HASA, which is a part of the city's HRA agency.

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HIV-Positive New Yorkers Protest Budget Cuts, Drug Screening Policy

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Activists upset with a new drug screening regulation for HIV-positive New Yorkers are going to protest the policy today by marching to a city commissioner and asking him to take a drug test. Y'know, it's one of those protests where the activists try to find the person they're mad at -- those are fun! If you find yourself feeling activist-y today, you can join HIV/AIDS organization Voices Of Community Advocates & Leaders (VOCAL-NY) this afternoon for a protest that the group says will bring together a hundred HIV-positive New Yorkers and allies.

This morning, Runnin' Scared caught up with one of the organizers to discuss what this was all about.

The group is pretty frustrated with the city -- for many reasons.

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AIDS Memorial Park Contest Winner Snubbed by Developer

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Yesterday, the AIDS Memorial Park Campaign chose Brooklyn-based Studio a+i as the winner of its design competition for the AIDS memorial park on the old site of the St. Vincent's Hospital. But now, the developer in charge of actually building the park says that they will ignore the results of the contest and move forward with their own design, by landscape architect Rick Parisi.

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Kevin Beauchamp and Howard Orlick on World AIDS Day

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C.S. Muncy
Kevin Beauchamp (left) and Howard Orlick
Today is World AIDS Day, the day to remember the 25 million people killed by the disease and the over 33 million people worldwide living with HIV.

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to profile Kevin Beauchamp and Howard Orlick in the Voice cover story "Maybe I Do and Maybe I Don't." Both Kevin and Howard are legally blind, have been living with AIDS for years, buried their former partners (at very young ages) to the disease, and now work as HIV/AIDS educators and activists. We chatted with them this morning to talk about who they're remembering and how'll they be spending their day.

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