“Over my dead body” — Me, just now.
It’s been a few decades, so maybe we’ve all forgotten how many dead queers had to happen before HIV/AIDS became a manageable disease.
I haven’t forgotten.
I saw enough funerals before I turned 20 to forget.
When I contacted HIV as a teenager back in 1992, the lifesaving drug “cocktail” still years away. Because of stigma and denial I never pulled my head out the sand to think about longevity very much. But if I did, I would have quipped something witty like “Oh sure, I’ll die young with a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other!”
That’s a lot less morbid than admitting you’ll probably die of AIDS.
COVID-19 has ravaged NJ’s coffers leaving policy makers scrambling to make up the difference. I was baffled and angry to learn that Gov Phil Murphy’s administration cut funding for AIDS/HIV services in NJ.
This means HIV/AIDS service providers receiving state funding must absorb a 10% budget cut starting July 1.
InsiderNJ spoke with multiple service providers who are bracing for “even bigger” cuts to begin October 1. One provider lost a grant for their LGBTQ healthcare center. Another was contemplating most staff layoffs.
Kathy Ahearn-O’Brien runs Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, NJ’s largest HIV/AIDS service organization.
“As the only NJ HIV organization that serves as a public policy watchdog, we always remain concerned about the State budget,” Ms Ahearn-O’Brien told InsiderNJ. “This year, given the COVID pandemic and its tremendous impact on the State budget, we are exceptionally concerned knowing that cuts will directly impact our ability to find and test those at risk, treat those who are living with HIV and to end the epidemic.”
Ten percent might sound modest. But with their ever-bourgeoning caseloads + decreased federal funding for HIV/AIDS + a few percentage points for inflation + COVID , the cuts are devastating.
Christian Fuscarino runs Garden State Equality, NJ’s largest LGBT rights organization.
“HIV/AIDS organizations are already trying to use a tight budget to serve people who might have compromised immune systems in the midst of a pandemic,” Mr Fuscarino told InsiderNJ. “LGBTQ people, Black people, and especially those who live at the intersections of those identities are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, and we know from data Black people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. ”
How many times must we prove that neglecting these very issues ends up costing fortune? Does Governor Phil Murphy, friend of the LGBT community, really wanna plug his pandemic-related budget holes by abandoning people with HIV/AIDS?
“Without proper funding to address these issues, along with the social determinants of health that many of our clients face like housing and food insecurity, we are increasingly worried about the state of HIV in NJ,” Ms Ahearn-O’Brien warned.
In good times and in bad, our budget reflects our priorities.
The time to de-fund and de-prioritize HIV/AIDS is never. Doing so is a bad investment that’s also, epidemiologically speaking, a knuckle-headed idea.
Now more than ever.
“It is unconscionable that the State of New Jersey would cut funding to HIV/AIDS organizations while we are both going through a pandemic and engaging in a nationwide conversation about racial injustice,” Fuscarino concluded.
It’s times like these when I reflect on those billions of dollars in corporate subsidies awarded to politically connected firms like PSE&G who got a $300,000,000 tax break just last year.
And I seethe.
“If it’s true that lifesaving funding may be cut even more this fall–after we’ve lost so many to HIV/AIDS–we must descend upon Trenton in numbers not seen since marriage equality days,” Mr Fuscarino said.
Jay Lassiter has been HIV+ for 28 years. The price of longevity is fighting this exact fight. If you see him advocating aggressively it’s because asking politely almost never works.