By Emily Lincke
Advocates painted a bleak picture for LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS policy under President Donald Trump’s administration during a forum at the House of Blues in Houston last week.
Scott Schoettes, HIV project director for Lambda Legal, and Equality Texas board member Ryan Leach spoke Thursday during “Trump’s First 100 Days,” a public discussion hosted by the Lambda Legal Houston Leadership Committee and LIVE Consortium at the House of Blues.
Schoettes, a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, noted that the Trump administration has removed information about LGBT issues and HIV/AIDS policy from the White House website. In addition, the website for the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) was disabled, and Trump hasn’t appointed a new ONAP director.
“This presidency… kind of takes us back to some of those dark days in terms of the epidemic, because we have an administration that once again is not uttering the words HIV,” Schoettes said, referencing President Ronald Reagan’s infamous refusal to acknowledge the AIDS crisis.
“It’s nowhere on the agenda,” Schoettes told about 30 people who gathered in the House of Blues’ Foundation Room.
Even if HIV/AIDS isn’t a priority for the administration, according to Schoettes, the battle continues. For years, about 50,000 Americans became infected with HIV annually, but data suggests the current rate is 37,000.
However, Schoettes expressed concern about attitudes regarding HIV/AIDS within the LGBT community.
“There’s stigma coming from other gay men,” Schoettes said. “Whereas at the height of the [AIDS] epidemic, there was a sense of ‘we’re all in this together,’ and nobody knew who was going to pop up HIV-positive in the next week.”
While Schoettes works at the federal level, Leach addressed the state of LGBT rights in Texas.
“Our Legislature has a habit of picking a new group every year to attack,” Leach said. “Sometimes it’s LGBTQ people, sometimes it’s immigrant communities, sometimes it’s women, or sometimes you get sessions like 2017, where it is all of them.”
Equality Texas fought Senate Bill 4, which is set to make Texas a “show me your papers” state in September, as well as Senate Bill 6, known as “the bathroom bill.” While SB 4 was signed by Governor Greg Abbott on May 7, SB 6 remains stalled in the House.
“These laws are not necessarily about them really thinking that we’re terrible pedophiles and whatever else,” Leach said. “These laws are about keeping us in our place.”
On the bright side, Leach noted that a proposal to ban LGBT discrimination statewide cleared a House committee for the first time this year. While the community has undoubtedly entered a challenging era, he suggested running for office as one solution.
“We’ve got to start developing a bench of people, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Independent or whatever, that will stand up for the policies that aren’t harming us, but the policies that are helping Texans,” he said.