Saturday, May 28, 2016

An Open Letter to Sen. Sanders Challenging the Characterization of Meeting with HIV/AIDS Activists


So Warren Gunnels (Sanders' senior policy director) deleted his tweet, which is something, I guess. I must admit, it's no fun being personally attacked by a campaign that leads millions of millennials, and one that I've often praised for raising many of the progressive issues I've long fought for (lost in all this was that we thanked Sanders in Kenyon Farrow's opening statement, saying "We commend you for your leadership and advocacy on single payer universal health coverage—something AIDS activists have been calling for since the 1980s.").

This is all so sad, and so unnecessary. We actually had a good meeting with Senator Sanders (see HealthGAP's press release, and my and others early posts about it), and then it all blew up into a shit-show when Bernie's team used us (in their press release) and then abused us (launched personal attacks, firmly hitching their train to AHF's slime machine). Our coalition will issue another press release on Tuesday that will reflect on the actual meeting we attended (not the one Gunnels dreamed up), and we will thank the Senator for some of the promises he made.

Our only goal, from the day Clinton made her AIDS gaffe, was to push all the campaigns to make some firmer promises in the fight against HIV/AIDS -- to turn lemons into lemonade. I hope the Sanders campaign will re-engage with us towards that end.

After Tuesday, we'll pivot back to the Clinton campaign (that process hasn't really stopped). They have promised us a meeting with their senior policy folks to discuss our harder asks. We will raise bloody hell if that meeting doesn't happen in the weeks ahead. We will also ask her campaign to reopen a dialogue with the Trans United Fund over their unfilled questionnaire.

And finally, we have to keep fighting against outrageous drug prices, especially HIV, PrEP and HepC drugs. Personally, I don't believe for one second this is an issue that Michael Weinstein and AHF are serious about. Most AIDS activists support workable government price controls like those used throughout Europe. Senator Sanders, can we save you from Weinstein, and discuss how to create a real revolution on drug prices?



Contacts: Mikola De Roo, 347-585-6051,; Anthony Hayes, 646-591-4893,; Elizabeth Koke, 347-473-7459,


May 27, 2016

Dear Senator Sanders:

We are grateful that you took time to sit with us this week to discuss a broad range of issues related to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Our group represents a larger coalition of over 70 organizations and advocates from across the country who hope to use this opportunity to push forward the national conversation, which is sorely missing, about HIV/AIDS. While we were optimistic following what we felt was a productive meeting, our optimism quickly turned to disappointment when your campaign issued a news release misrepresenting the meeting with HIV/AIDS leadership entitled “Sanders Backs California Ballot Initiative to Rein in Drug Prices at Meeting with HIV/AIDS Advocates.” As 19 representatives of the coalition, nearly half of whom are either based in or affiliated with organizations in California, we are deeply concerned as this may now appear as if we were exploited for short-term political gain leading up to the imminent California Presidential Primary Election.

Your campaign’s release title and the bulk of its content mislead readers and the press to believe that our May 25 meeting was primarily focused on your endorsement of a California ballot initiative on HIV drug pricing. By extension, it also implies that our national HIV/AIDS coalition also fully endorses this initiative. Both these characterizations are inaccurate.

During the meeting, we raised the issue of the California ballot initiative with you toward the tail end of the discussion, not to support or endorse it, but to relay to you that a number of stakeholders in California have serious concerns about the initiative. There is no general consensus in the HIV/AIDS community in support of the California ballot initiative, which is why we requested that you meet with those stakeholders. Prior to our meeting, numerous California organizations have tried to reach your campaign with these concerns, without any success.

While our coalition is frustrated by your campaign’s release about the initiative, which was only touched upon briefly during our time together, we are eager to continue the dialogue around the other critical issues that were the focus of the meeting, especially:

◾your commitment to ending AIDS as an epidemic in the U.S. by getting to below 12,000 new annual HIV infections by 2025;

◾ending the global epidemic by 2030 by increasing the U.S. global AIDS funding commitment by $2 billion dollars per year;

◾groups at high risk for HIV infection, including transgender persons and those incarcerated;

◾creation of an expert task force to develop a national plan;

◾increased funding for HIV/AIDS research;

◾and a campaign to fight HIV discrimination, criminalization, and stigma.

In order to refocus our attention back to the critical issues raised in the meeting, our coalition will release the full meeting notes early next week, which will allow for greater transparency with our coalition partners, as well as the broader HIV/AIDS community. While we believe your campaign’s press release misrepresented the overall purpose and outcome of the meeting, we hope to continue engaging with your campaign.


Tranisha Arzah, Peer Advocate, BABES-NETWORK YWCA

Jaron Benjamin, Vice President for Community Mobilization, Housing Works

Marco Alonso Castro-Bojorquez, Activist & Filmmaker

Guillermo Chacón, President, Latino Commission on AIDS; Founder, Hispanic Health Network

Thomas Davis, Health Education Specialist, Los Angeles LGBT Center

Kenyon Farrow, U.S. & Global Health Policy Director, Treatment Action Group (TAG)

Donnie Hue Frazier III, Prevention Training Specialist, APLA Health & Wellness

Ramon Gardenhire, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy, AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC)

Naina Khanna, Executive Director, Positive Women’s Network – USA

Kelsey Louie, MSW, MBA, CEO, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC)

Hilary McQuie, Director of U.S. Policy & Grassroots Mobilization, Health GAP

Nadia Rafif, Director of Policy, Global Forum on MSM and HIV

Michael Emanuel Rajner, BSW, HIV/AIDS Activist and Social Worker

Venita Ray, Public Affairs Field Specialist, Legacy Community Health

Bamby Salcedo, President and CEO, The TransLatin@ Coalition

Andrew Spieldenner, Ph.D., United States People Living with HIV Caucus

Peter Staley, AIDS Activist

DaShawn Usher, Community Education and Recruitment Manager, New York Blood Center’s Project ACHIEVE; Chair, Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative (YBGLI) Vice-President, Impulse Group NYC

Phill Wilson, President and CEO, Black AIDS Institute

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