Activist/Organizer Larry Bryant On AIDS 2012 Coming to D.C. and the Mayor’s Commission on HIV/AIDS


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Friday, as the city’s leading provider of clean needles closed its doors, Mayor Vincent Gray announced that the District of Columbia will host the 2012 International AIDS Conference. AIDS 2012 is expected to bring to the District 25,000 delegates from almost 200 countries, as well as more than 2,000 journalists. Gray said, “I am excited to host this conference here in D.C. It’s a chance to share best practices, exchange expertise and it’s a chance for people to get to know our city.”

Larry Bryant, national field organizer for Housing Works and co-chair of DC Fights Back, said of AIDS 2012 coming to D.C., “I’m conflicted: Proud to have the conference coming to my city, our city. But I’m also ashamed that we have to go through these changes and clean up. I’m thinking of the days and weeks before inauguration and how we were busing homeless out of town, cleaning up the streets, particularly along Pennsylvania Avenue, for the cameras. That’s not us. We have to be better than that.”

“We cannot be afraid to look ourselves in the eye,” said Bryant. “When we look around the city, I don’t care which ward you’re from, if you visit another ward, another part of this city, we are still looking at us. This is us. We don’t live in a society literally gated from each other. We live in the District of Columbia. To me, the best city on the planet. This is my home. This is where my parents are from. This is where my family lives. We can’t allow ourselves to walk around with blinders and to walk around with selective agendas.”

This past Wednesday, Gray announced the formation of a 27-member Mayor’s Commission on HIV/AIDS. “By bringing together HIV leaders from our best medical institutions, our universities, and the community, this Commission will ensure that we fight HIV as One City,” said Gray. “We still have a 3% infection rate [and] every resident needs to take this disease seriously and be invested in ending new infections.”

Bryant said, “[The Commission’s] makeup, its focus and its purpose are going to be key.” Bryant suggested the Commission set concrete goals and attack them. The Commission will be successful if “the housing waiting list of 700 [people who are living with HIV or AIDS], if that number is reduced. If the number of new infections are reduced over a period of a year to five years. If the number of people getting into care [is] increasing. [If] the health disparity gap is closing. All these things are real targets, are real goals. If we’re not planning to achieve those goals, then what the [expletive] are we planning for? This Commission is charged with putting all that together… We have to start aiming for those goals and not just waiting for the next press conference.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone more qualified to serve on the Commission than Bryant, a native Washingtonian who’s been living with HIV for twenty five years. “If asked, I would be [willing to serve],” said Bryant. “I’m not sure I’d be the smartest or most appropriate person to be on there. But what needs to happen is there needs to be a diverse group of individuals representative of the city of the District of Columbia [and] representative of the epidemic that exists in this city… Whether it’s me or whoever, we have to make sure that every person that fills that seat has a meaningful role and that role leads to a collaborative and constructive outcome.”

* Correction: The piece was originally entitled “Mayor Vincent Gray and Activist/Organizer Larry Bryant On AIDS 2012 Coming to D.C. and the Mayor’s Commission on HIV/AIDS.”

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