March 31: Earlier this week, over 600 advocates from 34 states and the District of Columbia descended upon Capitol Hill for the largest AIDSWatch yet; Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA) still made its mark. About 50 PWN-USA members participated in AIDSWatch 2017, some for the very first time, and some who have been coming for years.
“The energy of the tribe of my fellow HIV advocates echoed the heartbeat of those we have lost from the beginning of the epidemic. I was honored to walk to halls of the Capitol building and speak for those lives, my life with every congress person and staffer I met. Our collective voices together are the rhythm of that heartbeat that will spark change and become a deafening war cry to our legislators if they don’t listen to us,” Kamaria Laffrey, PWN-USA member and Florida coordinator for the Sero Project, described her experience in an eloquent blog.
AIDSWatch is the nation’s largest federal HIV advocacy event, connecting people living with HIV and HIV advocates with their elected members of Congress to push for meaningful change on major issues affecting the HIV community. This year, advocates urged their members of Congress to support continued funding of Medicaid and to allow non-expansion states to expand Medicaid; to cosponsor the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act to end HIV criminalization; to support syringe exchange programs; and to support comprehensive sexual education. Learn more about AIDSWatch issues here.
“As someone new to advocacy, AIDSWatch 2017 was an amazing experience. I learned about policy and I gained new skills to help in my advocacy efforts. I was honored to be a part of the Florida constituent group who together helped bring awareness to a number of HIV issues. I also LOVED seeing my PWN-USA sisters, they are a powerful force!!” said Lindsay Connors.
“My most remarkable memorable moment during AIDSWatch was with my Congressman, Rep. Robert Brady. We were able to see our congressman in person, and he was excited to learn why we need to repeal HIV criminalization laws. We had the opportunity for an educational moment with Rep. Brady on U=U (Undetectable =Untransmittable). He was moved by this science-based information on transmission of HIV and agreed that the HIV criminalization laws have no value today and need to be repealed. I left his office knowing feeling empowered,” said Teresa Sullivan, PWN-USA Board Member and PWN-USA Philly Senior Member, who was her state coordinator this year.
“At my representative’s office, we were able to meet with the lead health staffer for the third year in a row and learn that our hard work has paid off. Our representative had already signed on to the REPEAL Act, written a letter is support of funding for HIV research at NIH as well as Ryan White, and is attuned to our health care needs (and areas of potential reform for the ACA….not repeal/replace),” said Kari Hartel, co-chair of PWN-USA Colorado.
“Weathering the storm, standing in the Halls of Justice, having our voice heard was an empowering moment, the state of Florida came strong and ready!” proclaimed Lepena Reid.
“The most memorable for me was going to MTV SHUGA Down South – I am an admin in an international group and work with a lot of youth there, and meeting and talking to one of the stars was fantastic,” said Darlene Robertson of Louisiana.
Check out a few of our PWN-USA AIDSWatch photos below and the full album on Facebook!