Central Voice

Linking LGBT Communities In Central Pennsylvania And Beyond

Community Engagement on HIV Policy: Are Town Halls Meaningful Enough?

By Catherine Hanssens, Center for HIV Law and Policy

This article is part of a special series this week focusing on HIV and AIDS in the United States. RH Reality Check is partnering with CHAMP, the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, and organizations such as the Center for HIV Law and Policy to highlight issues on domestic HIV and AIDS policy while several thousand people attend the National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

One of the highlighted events during the national AIDS prevention conference in Atlanta this week is the town hall meeting scheduled for this evening, Tuesday, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Jeff Crowley, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), will hear from conference attendees and others on their views of the development of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). This and a dozen other town hall meetings scheduled all across the country have been planned to “engage the public in meaningful ways,” as the White House website puts it, in the development of a long-overdue national strategy to address the U.S. domestic HIV epidemic. ONAP also plans to get input from a soon-to-be-reconstituted President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), and from input posted on a new page for that purpose appearing on www.whitehouse.gov.

Efforts are underway to help people make their comments at these town hall meetings as useful as possible. Starting with the Atlanta town hall, advocates in 13 different locations will have about 90 minutes (assuming things start and end on time, and minus introductions and wrap-up) to tell Crowley their views. This is a start towards making a reality out of manifestos such as the Denver Principles, which call for inclusion of people with HIV in every level of decision-making in the policies and organizations affecting their lives. But is this step enough? Is this opportunity for input sufficiently meaningful?

There is a fundamental difference between real participation in the process of creating a National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and offering input through forums where community stakeholders lack access to actual drafts of a plan or are limited to reacting to a strategy crafted without their direct involvement. Those who’ve worked on legislation or tried to provide input on pending regulations know that it is far more difficult to have any influence from outside the process than it is when you are inside. Comments submitted on draft regulations, for example, rarely will secure significant changes once the administering agency has committed itself to a version of those regulations, particularly if that agency has a policy agenda at odds with community preferences. In contrast, a call for inclusion of community representatives in the recent CDC consultation to develop new guidelines for HIV testing in non-clinical settings resulted in sufficient inclusion to produce subcommittee recommendations reflecting an understanding by community reps’ on-the-ground of the policies needed to address the populations they serve. It is far more difficult to ignore or marginalize the views of stakeholders when they are at the table and part of the plan development from the start.

In response to demands for something more than town halls, a website, and PACHA as a way to weigh in on a national AIDS strategy, ONAP offered some reasons why more direct involvement in the task force Crowley will chair couldn’t include consumers. One was that inclusion of consumers in meetings with government task force members would dilute the latters’ investment in the strategy itself, and inhibit free discussion. Another was that federal law – the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), to be specific – restricts community participation.

As for fears of an inhibited and divested interagency task force, members of that task force need to understand from the get-go that community involvement and investment in the plan and its implementation is at least as vital. People with HIV and their advocates are and should be treated as a powerful, valuable resource in this process. If a government agency representative is inclined to think that agencies know best and that the views of people with HIV are not relevant to a plan to prevent its further transmission, I think it’s in our job to make sure that person does feel inhibited.

As for the FACA, that dog just won’t hunt. FACA was created to ensure transparency of the many existing advisory committees, councils, boards and similar groups that advise member of the executive branch, not to prohibit them. FACA requires that membership on advisory committees be balanced, and has certain procedural requirements for the creation and conduct of these committees, but none of these requirements are particularly burdensome (PACHA is an example of such an advisory committee). But FACA doesn’t even apply to consumer subcommittees that don’t report directly to the President or government officials but instead develop info, statistics, reports and even recommendations for government task forces or advisory committees.

A NHAS process that involves a task force made up of multiple agencies needs the participation of people with HIV and their advocates who are familiar with the work of each of these agencies and who can be prepared to hold them accountable in their contributions and commitments to a national plan. A more democratic process, with sufficient community representatives to address needs that relate to each participating agency’s mandate, will produce not only a substantively better strategy, but one far more likely to secure wide community understanding and support.

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Local Author's Book Makes Top 10 Gay Non-fiction List

Called a "must read," Michael Long's book on gay pioneer Frank Kameny has been chosen as one of the Top 10 gay, non-fiction books for 2014. Gay Is Good: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny by the Elizabethtown College professor is a "must-read for anyone interested in the history of the gay rights movement” says Publishers Weekly.

Harvard University's Michael Bronski, a staple in the world of gay history, said: “The LGBT movement has been blessed with an amazing array of passionate, provocative, colorful, dedicated, and sometimes infuriating women and men. Frank Kameny is certainly one of the most important. Michael Long’s magnificent book captures the breadth of the movement and the specificity of Kameny’s life and importance.”

Long tells Central Voice about his editing of Kameny's historically rich letters, 150 letters from 1958 to 1975, that reveal some of the early stirrings of today’s politically powerful LGBT movement. The letters are lively and colorful because they are in Kameny’s inimitable voice, a voice that was consistently loud, echoing through such places as the Oval Office, the Pentagon, and the British Parliament, and often shrill, piercing to the federal agency heads, military generals, and media personalities who received his countless letters. Long is the author and editor of several books on politics, religion, and civil rights. He is the editor, most recently, of Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life after Baseball.

Central Voice: What has the response been to your work on Kameny? from the academic community? from the LGBT community?

Michael Long: The book has just been released, but the response thus far has been so positive. Kameny's close friends, like Charles Frances and Bob Witech of Washington, DC, have been generous in their praise of the book.


CV: Some advocates are outright sending the book to others?

ML: Malcolm Lazin of Equality Forum has decided to send the book to leading LGBT activists across the country. Early reviews have also been positive, identifying the book as a "must read." I'm pleased about this mostly because it helps to advance the rich and inimitable legacy of Frank Kameny. This of us who fight for LGBT rights stand on his shoulders, and the book helps us understand how incredibly broad his shoulders were. 

CV: Currently, there is lots of dialogue about the intersections of race and LGBT issues. What are your thoughts?

ML: One of the most important things about Kameny is that early on he, like Edward Sagarin and others, identified gays and lesbians as an oppressed minority. That was no small move, and it allowed him to analyze discrimination against gays and lesbians as somewhat akin to discrimination against people of color. It also helped him articulate the need for civil rights and liberties for gays and lesbians early on.

CV: Wasn't Kameny an early petitioner of the US Supreme Court?

ML: His 1961 petition to the US Supreme Court--a landmark document--did exactly that while at the same time telling the justices that homosexuality was moral. It's breathtaking material. Kameny also turned to the civil rights movement for inspiration and instruction for advancing civil rights for oppressed gays and lesbians. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael are among those who influenced his deliberate efforts to politicize the homophile movement and turn it into a political power that politicians could no longer ignore. So Kameny actually helped to create the intersections of race and LGBT issues that we continue to experience today.



Things you may not know about Franklin Kameny -

*During the height of the Lavender Scare, openly fought the US government for firing him because he was gay (1958).

*Led a long campaign to force the US Civil Service Commission to permit the hiring of gays and lesbians individuals for federal jobs, including those requiring security clearances (1957 on).

*Filed first US Supreme Court petition arguing that gays and lesbians were an oppressed minority deserving equal treatment under law, and that homosexuality was moral (1961).

*Co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, the nation’s first organization dedicated solely to securing civil rights and liberties for gays and lesbians (1961).

*Co-founded regional and national gay and lesbian groups designed to politicize the movement and secure and advance political power in government and civil society (1963 on).

*Organized the first White House picketing by a group seeking civil rights and liberties for gays and lesbians. Similar picketing soon followed in front of the US Civil Service Commission, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and the Pentagon (1965).

*Criticized numerous leading media personalities, including Ann Landers, Johnny Carson, and Rona Barrett, for their anti-gay views (1966 on).

*Staged protests (“zaps’) for gay rights at American Psychiatric Association conventions, eventually forcing the APA to delist homosexuality as a mental disorder (1971 on).

*Became the first openly gay candidate for the US Congress (1971).

*Acted as counsel to numerous gays and lesbians facing discrimination in the US military and served as a driving force behind the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”


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