Summersgill responds to Simmons on privacy and HIV surveillance
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GLAA on AIDS and Public Health

Summersgill responds to Simmons
on privacy and HIV surveillance

[Note: The following letter from GLAA President Bob Summersgill was printed in the November 9, 2001 issue of The Washington Blade. The portions in square brackets were in the original letter but did not appear in the printed version. We provide them here for additional context. The letter to which Summersgill was responding, from Ron Simmons of Us Helping Us, can be found via the Related Links box at right.]

Saturday, October 27, 2001

Readers' Forum
The Washington Blade
via email to

To the Editor:

If Ron Simmons is going to complain about not being called by the Blade for a fresh quote on the HIV surveillance issue ["Political agenda blocks HIV name reporting," Readers' Forum, Oct. 26], he should at least find something new to say. As it is, he is still making the same arguments that were heard and rejected more than two years ago by Mayor Williams before adopting unique identifiers as the basis for the District's HIV surveillance with the overwhelming support of the DC Council.

The Mayor did so despite a months-long crusade in favor of names reporting by his own HIV/AIDS director, Ron Lewis. The current legislation only corrects a minor point in the District's well established policy in favor of a Unique Identifier system. [Simmons continues arguing in favor of names reporting against the overwhelming consensus of national AIDS groups and the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine's report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.]

Simmons apparently realizes the weakness of his case, since he finds it necessary to hurl racist insults at GLAA in an apparent attempt to mau-mau us into backing down. [He tries this desperate tactic despite the fact that our position is shared by other gay and AIDS groups across the racial spectrum, as well as by former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders and civil rights pioneer Rep. John Lewis.] Simmons' unilateral territorial declarations notwithstanding, the evidence shows us to be more in tune with the privacy concerns of African Americans than he is. [His anger and self-righteous posturing do not refute this.] His implicit trust of government is simply not shared by many of those who have a less cozy relationship with it.

Simmons accuses GLAA of caring only about an affluent minority, despite our having no paid staff and a budget barely into five figures. The effectiveness of our advocacy has always been a result of our careful homework on the issues, not of money. But speaking of affluence, we are glad that Us Helping Us is able to spend nearly half a million dollars buying a building in the District. [Its success is important as it provides much-needed services to an underserved and high-risk population.] In fact, we honored Us Helping Us with our Distinguished Service Award in 1998. Given that success, and the amount of public health dollars flowing through his organization, it is strange that Simmons insists on portraying our policy disagreement as a case of class warfare. [The fact is that GLAA's efforts during the past thirty years on behalf of equal rights have benefited everyone in the District regardless of income, race, or gender.]

[We urge Simmons to stop his gratuitous attacks and move on. Like our colleagues in ACT UP, whom he also insults, we are fair-minded, independent advocates with no financial interest in the AIDS industry. We believe that the public health of all will be best served not by denying or setting aside poor people's privacy concerns, but by demanding greater accountability from the District government as to how it is spending our HIV/AIDS dollars.]


Bob Summersgill
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance

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