AIDS Action, a D.C.-based group which had received scathing criticism from the LGBT community for agreeing to host a Jan. 20 inaugural event for President George W. Bush, has withdrawn from sponsoring the affair.
On Dec. 29, Craig Thompson and Charles Henry, the respective chairs of the AIDS Action Council and the AIDS Action Foundation, issued a letter to colleagues in the HIV community.
The letter stated that the executive director of AIDS Action, Marsha Martin, signed on to be a member of the host committee as an outreach gesture. However, the message also cited an 'e-mail invitation to the event [ that ] did not maintain the spirit of non-partisanship under which AIDS Action had agreed to participate.' The letter went on to state that, consequently, the organization felt that withdrawing its participation from the event was best. The letter concluded by declaring that, despite its occasional difference with the current administration and Congress, 'AIDS Action is proud of its collaborative advocacy approach.'
Martin signed on as part of a small committee that would sponsor an inaugural celebration for President Bush's reelection that was intended to benefit the AIDS Responsibility Project, according to The Advocate. However, the project has critics in several corners. Political journalist and Web blogger Doug Ireland has reported in his Web site, Direland, that the AIDS Responsibility Project is a group that lobbies against the approval and use of generic anti-HIV medications in developing nations.
Martin's name appears prominently on an invitation to the inauguration event as part of the host committee for the celebration and fundraiser, entitled 'Salute a Second Term: Celebration Freedom, Honoring Service: An Inaugural Dinner Invitation.' The black-tie event costs $125 per person or $5,000 for corporate sponsorships. Money raised at the event goes to the AIDS Responsibility Project. The invitation to the event reads, 'You are cordially invited to join in celebrating the Presidential Inauguration and Republican electoral success.' It was this wording—and Martin's connection to an evening with that theme—that angered many.
AIDS Action, of which Martin serves as executive director, calls itself the 'national voice' for more than 3,200 AIDS service organizations around the country. Some activists felt that with Martin being connected to a celebration of Bush's reelection, AIDS Action was openly promoting positions by the Bush administration that hurt HIV-positive people globally and that undermined HIV prevention outreach. Advocates said they felt this way based primarily on the administration's emphasis on abstinence-only education regarding sex and AIDS.
Martin's action perplexed and enraged many in the LGBT community. In response to the news that Martin was involved in the fundraiser, AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer e-mailed several AIDS Action board members about his concerns. 'As one of the original founders of AIDS Action Council with the late Paul Popham, I raise these piercing questions: Who is this Marsha Martin, and why is she doing and saying these really dumb things?' he wrote. 'Is AIDS Action turning into a second and equally-as-useless HRC [ Human Rights Campaign ] , run by idiots who do not know the first thing about activism? Why are board members, some of whom I know and respect, so out to lunch in minding this once valuable store?'
Sean Strub, founder of POZ magazine, sent a letter to AIDS leaders around the country about Martin's actions. In an e-mail to Windy City Times, Strub stated that ' [ b ] eyond this invitation, the bigger issue is what has happened to AIDS Action. They wouldn't endorse our scrupulously non-partisan AIDSVote effort this past fall, but their [ executive director ] joins well-known Republican activists ( every other person on the Host Committee ) to 'celebrate' Republican victories and the Bush inauguration. [ They are doing this ] all in the name of raising money for an awful effort, Abner Mason's 'AIDS Responsibility Project' which is a pharma-funded effort to derail the use of generic AIDS drugs in Africa and other places.'
Michael Bauer, a Chicago gay political activist, was irate enough to e-mail a letter to Thompson ( and copy to members of the gay press and the HIV/AIDS community ) in which he called for no less than the Martin's resignation. 'I assume,' Bauer wrote, 'your board realizes that Marsha Martin must be terminated by [ the ] end of the week. Nothing short of that will suffice.'
Direland also reported increasing chaos within AIDS-related associations, and AIDS Action in particular. 'There are serious new developments that underscore the AIDS community's organizational crisis,' the site stated. The developments apparently were based on a soon-to-be-published report from the Ford Foundation, which commissioned a study evaluating the effectiveness and advocacy of the national AIDS organizations. Direland reported that the analysis allegedly contains withering comments about AIDS Action's lack of effectiveness or consistency as an advocate for the community it claims to serve. Ireland added that, when he wrote a column on the politics of AIDS for POZ magazine, he was constantly hearing from gay staffers on Capitol Hill about the inactivity of AIDS Action. As an example, Direland cited AIDS Action's absence from the successful struggle that got Congress to legislate compensation for hemophiliacs who were infected with HIV through governmental neglect regarding the supervision of the nation's blood supply.
The Web site also alleged that Martin is claiming that she 'never saw' the invitation's wording before it went out. However, Ireland reacted to the claim with unabashed skepticism: ' [ I ] t's hard to believe an old political bureaucrat like you didn't know exactly what you were doing when you joined a host committee made up entirely of Republicans and people on various GOP payrolls.'
No matter what side people are on regarding this issue, one thing is certain: It will be interesting to see what the organization's—and Martin's—next move is.