GLAA refutes the so-called racial divide on HIV privacy concerns
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GLAA on AIDS and Public Health

GLAA refutes the so-called racial divide
on HIV privacy concerns

[Note: The following letter from GLAA Vice President for Political Affairs Rick Rosendall was printed by the Washington City Paper in its September 7, 2001 issue. The letter was in response to an article in the paper's August 31 issue. The sections of the letter shown below in square brackets were deleted by the City Paper editor. These omitted sections provided facts and substance which GLAA considers vital to a full understanding and appreciation of our position -- including references complete with URLs to back up our claims. In particular, we regret the editor's omission of our reference to the Institute of Medicine report recommending blind sero-prevalence surveys, which would yield more representative surveillance data while respecting privacy concerns.]

Friday, August 31, 2001

The Mail
Washington City Paper
2390 Champlain St. NW
Washington, DC 20009
via email to

Dear Editor:

Two years ago, when Mayor Williams agreed with the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance in opposing names-based HIV reporting -- despite a months-long propaganda campaign by his own staffer Ron Lewis -- it wasn't just GLAA's superior organizing and a near-unanimous DC Council that persuaded him ("Losing Track," 8/31). We had done our homework, and we had both the evidence and the vast majority of AIDS advocacy organizations in the country on our side.

[The signatories of a March 1999 open letter to national public health officials opposing names reporting included D.C. Care Consortium, Gay Men of African Descent, National Black Lesbian & Gay Leadership Forum, National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization (LLEGO), National Minority AIDS Council, People of Color in Crisis, National Urban League, former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, and Congressman John Lewis. (For the full text of the letter and signatories, go to GLAA's website at and check our archive under March 1999.)]

Ron Lewis' scare-mongering did indeed sway many black AIDS leaders in the District (who depended on him to make their payrolls), and at a crucial meeting on the subject with the Mayor, I was greatly outnumbered as GLAA's representative. Fortunately, as the Mayor said that day, he wasn't just counting heads -- he was weighing the merits of the matter. At a subsequent meeting that I arranged, Catalina Sol of La Clinica del Pueblo described a client survey (as reported in your article) showing that 85 percent of Latino clients would avoid getting tested if they knew their names would be reported to the government.

Although names reporting was defeated two years ago as a matter of District policy, Ron Simmons of Us Helping Us continues to address the issue in a reckless way that slanders GLAA. Simmons repeatedly responds to GLAA's substantive arguments by changing the subject and questioning our motives. Stooping to racist insults (and ignoring our long list of non-white allies), he suggests that we care only about white people. Considering that I am well-insured, HIV-negative, and as out of the closet as you can get, I am at a loss to understand how my opposition to names-based reporting could possibly be motivated by selfishness. For many years, GLAA's AIDS advocacy has emphasized the city's highest-risk populations, which are precisely the ones most likely to be deterred by names reporting from getting tested in the first place. Not bothered by the facts, Simmons simply pretends that it is relatively privileged whites who are most concerned about privacy, when if anything their very privilege makes whites less likely to worry about their names being reported.

For a long time now, Simmons' group, using a public grant, has placed a half-page ad every week in the Washington Blade targeting black men "on the down low" -- that is, closeted men who are in denial about their sexuality (and who are only encouraged in this denial by those who promulgate the nonsense that "gay" is a white cultural construct). These men are in the highest at-risk group for AIDS -- except, perhaps, for their wives and girlfriends. If these brothers are on the down low, does Simmons really think they are reading the Blade? Tell my GLAA colleagues and me that we are wrong, call us racists when you lack arguments as well as scruples, but you cannot accuse us of wasting public health funds by placing ads that the intended readers are unlikely ever to see. By contrast, GLAA is composed entirely of unpaid volunteers who do our well-informed advocacy in our spare time.

Simmons falsely states, "The people who were against names reporting are against surveillance in general, and therefore, whatever you come up with, they are not going to be happy." In fact, GLAA does support HIV surveillance. We have significant concerns about the proposed system, which will be a deterrent to prevention and treatment efforts. We also have concerns about case reporting (names or unique identifiers) in general. [According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report "No Time to Lose," (, written for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), case reporting is based only on who gets tested. This will cause a significant bias in favor of gay men who get tested more regularly than populations which have not had twenty years of prevention education. The IOM report instead recommends blind sero-prevalence surveys. This method will not be biased by people who do not get tested until they are sick, and sophisticated tests will make recent infections identifiable from older ones. This change is not a decision for DC's Department of Health, but DOH should encourage the CDC to implement the recommendations of the IOM report.]


Rick Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance

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