Davis responds to Simmons on HIV surveillance, racism
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Davis responds to Simmons on HIV surveillance, racism

Metro Weekly logo
February 13, 2003

To the Editor

GLAA Responds to Simmons

(Via email to editor@metroweekly.net)

In defending names-based HIV reporting, Ron Simmons of Us Helping Us ("Taking the Lead," Feb. 6) is still making the same arguments that were heard and rejected three and one-half 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. With his sleazy use of plantation rhetoric, Simmons is also repeating the same racist smears against the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) and ACT UP DC that he previously spread in the Washington Blade and City Paper.

The Mayor decided in favor of unique identifiers in the summer of 1999 despite a months-long crusade in favor of names reporting by his own HIV/AIDS director, Ron Lewis. The HIV Unique Identifier System Amendment Act, which Councilmember Sandy Allen has kept bottled up in her committee for two years, 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 insult GLAA and mischaracterize our views and motives in an effort to change the subject. He keeps resorting to this desperate tactic despite the fact that our position has been echoed 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 GLAA and ACT UP to be more in tune with the privacy concerns of African Americans than he is. His anger, viciousness, 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. And his false claims that GLAA opposes HIV surveillance altogether, and that we regard it as a political issue as opposed to a health issue (when of course it is both), are nothing but smokescreens.

Simmons accuses GLAA of caring only about affluent white people, despite our having no paid staff, our budget which is barely into five figures, and our longstanding policy of support for community-based organizations like his own. The effectiveness of our advocacy has always been a result of careful homework on the issues, not of money. But speaking of affluence, we are happy to note from its website that Us Helping Us purchased a building for its headquarters in September 2001 and has started a $1.5 million capital campaign to make it a state-of-the-art facility. Despite Simmons' hostility towards us, we are pleased at UHU's success because it provides much-needed services to an underserved and high-risk population. In fact, GLAA 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 over nearly thirty-two 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 DC, 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, or by sowing racial division, but by demanding greater accountability from the District government on how it spends our HIV/AIDS dollars. As it is, the DC Council has failed to conduct an oversight hearing on the HIV/AIDS Administration since July 18, 1998. Now that audits are at hand, Simmons tries to blame the messengers.

We trust that Metro Weekly's readers will see his racist mudslinging for what it is.

Kevin Davis
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
Washington, D.C.

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