Wearing red ribbons or stickers that read 'Stop HIV Now' and 'HIV Prevention: $1.7 Million,' AIDS advocates testified at a public hearing on Nov. 1 at Chicago's City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle.
The amount on the stickers represents the increase that AIDS advocates say is needed to help Chicago keep pace with the HIV epidemic. According to an AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) release, $500,000 is needed just to keep pace with the rate of inflation this year. The statement also listed how the increase would be allocated, with funds going to everything from mobilizing faith-based groups to educating at-risk youth.
Although most of the city's aldermen had left the room after the official City Council meeting ended, a few stuck around. What they heard was passionate and eloquent testimony from several individuals, including Wesley United Methodist Church's Rev. Charles Straight, who is on the AFC board.
'I just wanted to remind you that it's been 2003 since the City of Chicago has increased its funding for [ HIV prevention funding ] ,' Straight stated. He then talked about the hardships that many with HIV/AIDS have had to endure, even incorporating an award-winning rap song in his message: 'There was a song that won an Academy Award, much to my dismay and chagrin; it's called It's Hard [ Out Here ] for a Pimp. In the city of Chicago, let me tell you who it's hard out here for. It's hard for poor people who desperately need HIV prevention, medication and testing; it's hard for people of color who are living with HIV; and it's hard for a Black preacher in Chicago who's reaching out to all people with an inclusive message of love who [ stresses ] HIV education and prevention in a loving and non-judgmental way.
'We're beaten up by [ other members of the ] clergy and we're sometimes ostracized by our own congregation for an inclusive message. As a result of cuts, we've lost horrible amounts that were funded by the Department of Health to reach out to African-American churches to raise HIV awareness and to educate them. Unfortunately, stigma and homophobia are still alive and well in our churches and our communities—and they are some of the same driving forces behind HIV infections among people of color. By conducting HIV education in churches, we can work to end homophobia and stigma.
'I cannot tell you the number of people who have said to me that they engage in risky behavior because they're not worth saving,' he continued. 'That is something they learned in church. Ladies and gentlemen, it's hard out there for a Black preacher who's trying to love people [ instead of ] condemning them to hell. The city of Chicago has a moral and ethical responsibility to adequately fund health departments for the public good. ... Please add $1.7 million to the budget to adequately fund HIV prevention.'
Several aldermen lauded Straight for his words and his work, including 48th Ward Ald. Mary Ann Smith. 'The history of this challenge is people like yourself fighting against criticism and shunning,' she said. 'Think back. Where would we be today—in Chicago and the United States—if Ronald Reagan had his way and activists had not be required to be so forceful? We would be in the same situation as in certain parts of Africa. However, thanks to the extraordinary leadership of people like yourself, we [ are not ] in the midst of another Holocaust. I want to thank you for the work you do.'
Officials and the public also heard from high school student Niye Martin, who attends the Simpson Academy for Young Women in Chicago. She pleaded for HIV prevention education for youth because 'seven out of 10 high school students are not using protection. ... They won't take education courses that talk about sexually transmitted diseases. In school, they don't tell you all the facts; they just tell you the basics. ... HIV is not like a bad cold; you can't just get rid of it. ... I hope you all vote for the HIV prevention funding so that you can save more teens from becoming infected.'
The previous day, AIDS activists symbolically wrapped City Hall in condoms to alert the mayor, alderman and general public of the need to increase the HIV/AIDS prevention budget by $1.7 million for 2007. Participants handed out fliers as well as condoms.