Barbara Lee

Speech at 19th International AIDS Conference - July 23, 2012

Barbara Lee
July 23, 2012— Washington, DC
International AIDS Conference
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Good evening, delegates of the 19th International AIDS Conference. Let me just say, it’s an honor. It’s a humbling moment for me to be with you this evening. Let me especially take a minute to welcome the delegates from my state of California and, of course, my wonderful constituents from Alameda County, Berkley, and Oakland, California. Oakland is in the house! Welcome! Also, to our esteemed speakers and dignitaries, the Chair of the International AIDS Society and our co-chairs of the conference, and to all of the members of the conference coordinating committee, and staff, and most importantly to you, my brothers and sisters, let me just say thank you for making this magnificent conference possible. Also, I have to take a minute to thank all of you for helping us fight to lift the unjust and discriminatory HIV travel ban that prevented so many of you from coming to the United States and hosting this important conference. Welcome to the United States of America, and thank you.

You know, few believe that it could not be done, but together we said yes we can. I remember having discussions with many of you at the International AIDS Conferences in Thailand, Toronto, and Mexico City that led me to begin to work with you on efforts to lift this ban. And thanks to bipartisan support, President Bush signed the repeal into law and President Obama lifted the ban. It was bipartisan support. You know, the last conference in the United States was in 1990 in San Francisco where we have a great leader in congress, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who from day one put ending this epidemic on the front burner of the House of Representatives. So here we are, 22 years later, once again in the United States.

Although AIDS has made the transition from a death sentence to a chronic disease, new infections unfortunately continue at alarming rates. Now, HIV and AIDS disproportionately affect no group of people in my country, in our country, more than African-Americans. Of the more than 1 million people in the United States living with HIV, nearly half are Black men and women, even though Blacks make up 14% of the population. Communities of color are most affected by HIV than any other group. Black, gay, and bisexual men account for 1 in 4 of new infections, and African-American women account for the largest share of new infections among women.

We, like many countries, have more work to do. That is why this conference brings an opportunity to shine a global spotlight on the fight against AIDS in America and a national spotlight on the ongoing global epidemic. Yes, we stand with you fighting to turn the tide together. Standing with us are tireless leaders like Phil Wilson of the Black AIDS Institute and so many phenomenal community-based activists and organizations. Yes, Washington, D.C. vividly illustrates both the challenges and the progress presented by AIDS and the courage and the unbelievable work displayed by community activists and leaders in Congress. For example, you have Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton who so proudly represents this beautiful city in Congress. I have to just share

with you that we are extremely fortunate to have great warriors in our fight in Congress: Congresswoman Maxine Waters from my state, from California, along with Congresswoman Donna Christensen from the Virgin Islands. Now they led efforts to establish the Minority AIDS Initiative and increased funding for the Ryan White Care Act for the United States.

Turning the tide together reminds me of the many Democrats and Republicans who came together—mind you, came together—to mount a major United States response to this global epidemic. I have to tell you, I will always remember how my good friend Congressman Jim Leach, the Republican chair of the House banking committee, and myself came together to write the Global AIDS and Tuberculosis Relief Act, which President Clinton signed into law in 2000. My predecessor, a great humanitarian and statesman, former Congressman Ron Dellums, who envisioned an AIDS Marshall Plan for Africa, inspired this work which became the foundation for the Global Fund as we know it today.

So yes, I am humble and very proud of the pioneering work that all of us did during our early meetings at the White House with President Bush and the Congressional Black Caucus then under the remarkable leadership of a great woman, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas—Texas, mind you. We worked on this together with President Bush. Yes, it can be done. We said in a letter to President Bush, and I quote, ‘We cannot win the war against AIDS without greater financial resources and a clear plan of action for the United States.’ Shortly thereafter we began writing the PEPFAR legislation with my former esteemed colleagues on the House foreign affairs committee. These members, unfortunately, have passed: The late Congressmen Henry Hyde, Tom Lantos, and Don Payne. I wish they were alive to be with us tonight. I wish you could be with them to meet them and to see how committed they were to end AIDS throughout the world.

Yes, President Bush signed this bill into law boldly and bravely in 2003. Since then, we have made tremendous progress in expanding HIV treatment access and saved millions of lives. Many of you here helped us fight for a United States domestic PEPFAR. Thankfully, under President Obama’s bold leadership, we now have a national HIV/AIDS strategy. We finally have that. But, in the words of our good friend and great humanitarian Bono, ‘We’re not here today for a victory lap, but we’re here to pick up the pace.’ We are at a very important crossroad. Too many are still dying. Too many new infections occur each and every day. And too many wait in line to receive treatment, including here in the United States … Too many. And yet, there is so much hope through new scientific advances that we can see the beginning of the end of AIDS.

But how do we do this? We can and we must increase and better target our resources for treatment, prevention, and care. We can and we must end stigma and discrimination. We can and we must repeal laws and politically-motivated policies that violate human rights and undermine our efforts as recommended by the United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law. We have to end these discriminatory criminalization practices. Yes, we can and we must engage meaningfully with key effective populations and that

includes men who have sex with men, transgendered people, sex workers, and people who inject drugs. Yes, we have to have everyone involved in ending AIDS.

That is exactly what my new legislation, called Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic Act, would do. I call on Congress to pass my bill and all governments to commit to achieving an AIDS-free generation. We cannot retreat now. We must redouble our commitment to PEPFAR and the Global Fund. We must do that. We must redouble our commitment to the national HIV/AIDS strategy in the United States. We must do that. Above all, we must protect the inherent humanity and dignity of all people. Action means everything. It means survival, but it means hope. So at this moment, we have a tremendous opportunity to act to put an end to AIDS. We have you, we have a civil society throughout the world and AIDS activists, scientists, and healthcare workers. We have all of you who have brought us this far. So do not slow down now. We can and we must turn this tide together. In the words of the great President Nelson Mandela, he said, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done."

So, in memory of those who did not live to see this day, let us recommit ourselves to putting an end to AIDS. Let this be our legacy.

Thank you very much, and God bless you.