Do gay Black lives matter to Illinois' legislators and governor?
On May 31, the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner adjourned without enacting a state budget. They are at a stalemate over funding levels for state programsmany of which directly impact the lives of the thousands of gay Black men in Illinoisand items on Rauner's so-called "turnaround agenda."
You are probably saying to yourself, "How is this different than previous years? Politicians always make campaign promises and turn their back on them once in office." Time has never been on the side of those fighting against HIV; however, this time, inaction is killing my community!
I serve as the vice president of policy and advocacy for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) so that I can engage in the fight to stop the tide of rising HIV infections in my community. Put bluntly, the Black community in Illinois and other parts of the United States is being ravaged by HIV and AIDS. Let these numbers soak in for a moment:
There are nearly 43,500 people living with HIV in Illinois, and each year there are approximately 1,800 new HIV infections in our state.
Fifty percent of those infections are in the Black community.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, nearly 40 percent of new HIV cases are among young people aged 20-29.
Most alarmingly, HIV rates are highest among young gay and bisexual Black men. A recent report highlights that a young Black gay man becoming sexually active today at the age of 18 has about a 60-percent chance of being HIV positive by the age of 40. In addition, a recent study suggests that 66.7 percent of Blacks between the ages of 18 and 65 years old have never been tested for HIV.
What does all this tell us? It's an alarming signal that there are troubling racial disparities within our domestic HIV epidemic. The saying "when white America catches a cold, black America gets the pneumonia" has never rung more true than right now, as it relates to HIV infections.
This is further compounded by the fact that Rauner proposed a 25-percent ( $6 million dollars ) cut to HIV/AIDS programs and services as well as a 66-percent ( $1 million ) reduction in the African-American AIDS Response Act Fund ( AAARAF ) in his budget. To add salt to the wound, an administrative error made last fiscal year caused $1.5 million that was appropriated to the AAARAF to never be delivered, resulting in 14 service organizations granted the funds not being able to do critical prevention and treatment work in the Black community.
With the General Assembly at a standstill and engaging in a political stag fight, precious, life-saving HIV funding hangs in the peril. If no action is taken soon, more HIV infections will continue to happen in the Black community and, in particular, the Black gay community. This inaction stops us from putting scarce HIV prevention dollars in communities where they are most needed.
I urge Rauner and General Assembly to get a handle on this situation, work to finalize a budget that doesn't harm HIV services and come to a consensus on items that protect working families and essential state services and programs.
The governor and General Assembly have many revenue options available to them that will produce a responsible state budget. They both have revenue options available to them that will produce a responsible state budget with adequate revenue to avoid cuts and make wise investments for the future.
It's time that our leaders demonstrate that gay Black lives matter!