Last week, the International AIDS Society announced that the cities of Oakland and San Francisco will co-host AIDS2020.
As this decision has generated a lot of discussion in the global HIV community, we wanted – as members of Oakland’s local community – to share our thoughts about the choice, and how it will impact us.
We view this as an opportunity and a call to act; Oakland is one of the most ethnically diverse major cities in the USA, with people of color comprising 73% of the population. African Americans or Blacks represent the predominant racial group, with 33% of the population. In 1998, Alameda County (where Oakland is located) declared a state of emergency in the response to AIDS, in the African American community, which continues to this day.
We consider it an opportunity – and obligation – to spotlight and address the unacceptable burden of the HIV epidemic on people of color, particularly among the black community here in Oakland, and across the US – especially the southern States of our country and globally.
We especially appreciate the decision to have Oakland and San Francisco co-hosts – we epitomize the two extremes of the USA’s response to AIDS. Like many other communities around the world, the Bay Area holds a stark and disgraceful disparity in human rights, access to health, and social and economic empowerment that makes people of color in Oakland – especially our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQI and homeless communities- continue to be disproportionately affected by AIDS. An analysis by the Urban Institute of the US Census 2000 numbers showed Oakland had the third-highest concentration of gays and lesbians among the 50 largest US cities, behind San Francisco and Seattle.
Oakland is also known for its history as the birthplace of political and social justice movements. They have taken to the streets to decry income inequality and held “Occupy Oakland” demonstrations in the Frank Ogawa Plaza. Immigrants and others have marched by the thousands down Oakland’s International Boulevard for immigrants’ rights. Recently, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf made international headlines by defying the Trump Administration’s immigration raids. Oakland has a long-established heritage of fighting for human rights and the end to discrimination – and that’s exactly what we plan to do with AIDS2020.
In the run up to, and at the conference itself, we will shine a light on the issues and opportunities that we and many communities around the world face. We will develop specific, concrete actions that will benefit the community, long after the IAS has moved on.
Oakland will be an equal partner with San Francisco. We know that being a host of AIDS2020 requires an investment of time and human resources that we can ill afford to spare. But 2020 will be an unprecedented tipping point, both for the response to AIDS, and the political future of the USA. Far from being a distraction, this will be our chance to highlight the importance of the international and domestic AIDS response in the presidential election.
Concerns have rightly been raised about a number of long-standing, complex issues associated with holding global AIDS conferences in the USA, and indeed in the Global North in general. The USA is not alone in facing disparities in health. As many in our community have noted, these concerns go beyond Oakland and San Francisco, and speak to the need for a careful examination of the rationale and purpose of our collective gatherings.
We share the outrage that for many communities hit hard by HIV; the US continues to be a hostile environment. We, like too many countries around the world, have punitive laws and policies restricting the meaningful engagement of these communities. We believe that AIDS2020 gives us an unparalleled opportunity to begin addressing these issues. California is welcoming of everyone, regardless of status, community or place of birth. We need to work with our elected officials, particularly Oakland’s Congresswoman Barbara Lee and San Francisco’s Congresswoman Pelosi to break down barriers and find ways to reform predatory federal immigration laws and policies. We seek and welcome your support and counsel as we campaign for changes.
We completely agree that it is unacceptable for the IAS to have received only two bids to host AIDS2020 from the Global North. We have got to do better, and we commit to doing our part with our partners around the world to generate vibrant proposals for future conferences.
We urge the global HIV community to join us and our brothers and sisters in Oakland and San Francisco in making AIDS2020 a meaningful milestone in a reinvigorated equitable, fully funded and sustainable global AIDS response.
Current signatories (which will continue to be updated):
Jessie Brooks, Bay Area State of Emergency Coalition (Chair) and journalist
Cynthia Carey-Grant, Executive Director, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Disease (WORLD)
Gloria Crowell, Chair, The Allen Temple Baptist Church AIDS Ministry
Gloria Lockett, Executive Director, California Prostitutes Education Project (CAL-PEP)
Marsha Martin, Community Convener of the Fast Track Cities-Get Screened Oakland and Coordinating Director of the Global Network of Black People Working in HIV
Loris Mattox, Executive Director, HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County (HEPPAC)
Ben Plumley, Secretary, Board of Directors, Californian Prostitutes Education Project (CAL-PEP)
Alvan Quamina, LGBTI & HIV Activist, Public Health Official
Robert Reinhard, Public/Global Health Consultant
Donna Futterman, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Adolescent AIDS Program, Einstein College of Medicine