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20 June 2009 @ 11:52 pm
You Can Cut All The Flowers But You Can't Keep Spring From Coming  
I'm hoping Pablo Neruda was right, when he wrote that.  As the Obama administration continues to make hash of the Hope and Change gardens he planted in the hearts of many Americans--particularly members of the LGBT community and people for whom HIV and AIDS are compelling issues--as his policies and words continue to drift apart, it's important to find an anchoring thought.  I choose this one, by the great Chilean poet and social activist.  There's a reason why I picked him.  I'll share it further down in this post.

FYI, I'm not putting this behind a cut because it's too important.  I want it in as many faces as I can reach.

In 1993, Jesse Helms sponsored legislation that made it illegal for people who had communicable diseases to enter the country. In recent years, the law has come under fire for its outdated point of view, lack of value, and ineffective functional enforcement.  It is important to note that President George W Bush
supported repealing it

Interestingly, the legislation to repeal was a bipartisan proposal, introduced by then-Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) and Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) with broad support in both parties and in both houses of the Congress.  The bill was called, The Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008.  It was signed into law by President Bush on July 30, 2009.  Why isn't it being enforced?  Why is the current administration simply reinforcing destructive practices that no longer serve the best interests or will of the people?

President Obama's administration, on the other hand, has made enforcing the 1993 law a priority.  When the Pacific Health Summit 2009 convened last week (June 16-18), a key speaker was absent from the line up: Paul Thorn.  He'd been denied access, despite interventions by Congress members and a direct appeal to the US Consulate in London.  

It was too bad because the primary topic this year was tuberculosis and Paul has had, and survived, multi-resistant tuberculosis.  He picked up in a hospital.  The treatment took three years, but it worked!  This was particularly remarkable because he is also HIV+.

It was this combination, and his work founding and directing a TB organization that made him a hot ticket for the Summit.  One of the big concerns is the increased vulnerability to infection among those living with HIV.  Think about the perfect storm that would arise if the two diseases crossed paths in a region with a large percentage of the population having an HIV+ status.  Wait, you don't have to; it's already happening in Lesotho, where 70% of people with TB are co-infected with HIV/AIDS. 

Good that the conveners are looking at this issue in a focused way.  Bad that the enforcement of the law deprived them of Paul's presence.  How was our safety enhanced by denying our shores his presence for the three days of the Summit?

Today, I learned that my favorite professor at school--the one whose seminar changed my life, my academic plans, and my career vision--was denied entry into the US in May due to his HIV+ status.  He is a career community researcher who works in populations that are frequently neglected out of fear and barriers to access.  His ethical and humane approach to research has granted him entrance to such communities and the result is a body of work that is incredibly useful.  In addition, he's an artist and fiction writer.  He was born into poverty in Chile, emigrated to Canada, and has been a citizen there for many years.  It was in deference to his Chilean heritage and life long activism that I picked the quote from Pable Neruda.

He's been HIV+ since 1995, and has traveled freely between his home in Canada and the US for the past 20 years.  Until May, 2009.  Now, his name is in a big database and he will be barred entry until/unless the law is repealed, and those who are on The List are re-evaluated.  This ban includes passing through the US, or US ports, in transit to another destination.

I'd hoped to have him as the faculty adviser for my senior study, had counted on it.  If he'd turned me down, that would be one thing; but this reason is uniquely unsatisfying.  And while I'm sure I'll find another adviser, his area of research, preferred methodologies, and professional posture would be a tremendous boon; I would feel comfortable stretching further in my work, knowing that he was overseeing my efforts.  Who can measure how that benefit would ripple out over the years?

Under the 1993 law, it's possible to apply for a waiver, though none is guaranteed.  Another thing one could do is simply not get tested for ANY communicable disease.  If you have no diagnosis, you won't be lying as you float through Customs.  Yet another would be to lie, committing a felony in the process.

This policy beggars several questions:

HOW DOES THE LAW ADDRESS the issue of those who travel to or through the US and don't know that they have a communicable disease?

IF A CANADIAN CITIZEN'S PARENTS TRAVEL TO THE US FOR A VACATION and are injured or become ill, and their adult child in Canada has Hepatitis C, does this mean that said child will not be able to enter the US to be with them at the hospital?

WHAT HAPPENS IF A FOREIGN NATIONAL CONTRACTS a communicable disease while in the US?  Must they leave?  What if they picked it up because they were in the hospital, or in the line of duty?  Do they still have to leave?

WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHOSE RELATIONSHIPS STATUS status is not recognized by the federal government, such that they cannot become citizens by virtue of marriage to an American citizen, will they have to leave if they are sick of become sick?

HOW DOES THIS KEEP USE SAFER, if there is no way to vet for people who don't know they are ill?  Is it a useful law?  Does it protect us in a meaningful way?  Do we need to be protected?

In 2007, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published a report,
Moving Beyond the U.S. Government Policy of Inadmissability of HIV-Infected Noncitizens -- A Report of the CSIS Task Force on HIV/AIDS, which outlined considerations and issues related to the existing laws.  The Center found the current policy to be out of date, reflecting the panic, knowledge base, and fear of the time in which it was developed.  Several recommendations were made to bring it up to date, with the specific recommendation that care be taken to get it right.  CSIS found these changes essential to affirming the credibility of the US regarding HIV/AIDS, as well as it leadership role.

The noxious brief mentioned previously was filed on  June 11* and, to my knowledge, there has yet to be any response from the White House to the various complaints pouring in from LGBT-community VIPs, despite coverage from major print media outlets (e.g., NYT, WSJ, etc.).  June 16 marks the convening of the Summit and of Paul Thorn being denied entry.  Then, on June 17, the Obama administration made a show of unveiling an array of minor domestic partnership benefits that will now be conferred to federal employees.  The language of the announcement was careful, incluing a clause that says something like, "to the extent that it's legal", which, of course, excludes things like health care.
  There is talk among LGBT community leaders, on the other hand, regarding an October march on Washington, to express significant disappointment regarding the growing rift between President Obama's campaign rhetoric and in-office actions. 

The President acknowledged that new policy regarding benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees reflects only incremental progress was small, but that is a genuine first step--which is true.  The question of sincerity comes up when, without addressing the June 11 brief at all, the President went on to say (emphasis mine),

I think we all have to acknowledge this is only one step," the president said. "Among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it's discriminatory, I think it interferes with states' rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it. We've got more work to do to ensure that government treats all its citizens equally, to fight injustice and intolerance in all its forms, and to bring about that more perfect union. I'm committed to these efforts, and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of these issues in the months and years to come.

How do these claims line up with the content of the heinous brief?  Not at all.  The brief says that DOMA is not discriminatory, for one thing.  It calls DOMA reasonable.  It says that DOMA supports the best financial interests of the country.  How are we meant to resolve these discordant messages, broadcast from the same "mouth"?

Bottom line: what can those of use who find this situation unacceptable do?  We can hold a clear and vibrant hope that this President will live up to his promise and his promises, rather than allow what made him such an unusual and inspiring choice to whither and subside into a Clinton-esque shuffle-dance.  We can share the information and resources with everyone we know.  We can write to our elected officials, at every level of government, and express our desires, opinions, and requests for swift action to repair this dis-parity.  We can continue to speak, and to hold this administration accountable--just as we held the previous administration's feet to the fire when we disagreed with it.  We can re-mind all of our legal representatives of their tremendous capacity to effect genuine and enduring change--the kind of change that promotes the dignity and empowerment of all citizens and raises our communities and our nation to the next developmental level.

We can make a difference.  We can prove Pablo Neruda right.  Yes, we can.


*The irony thickens when you consider that the noxious brief was filed on th 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling on Loving v. Virginia, the case that ended all raced-based restrictions on marriage.  Key parts of the Justices' ruling remain intact, worthy of review:

Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

Copyright 2009  Dot's Stuff.  All rights reserved, except your right to be represented in your governance.

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Ededarzakh on June 21st, 2009 11:04 am (UTC)
I'm not qualified to comment, because I'm not hay, American, or infected with a contagious disease (apart from a slight sniffle). However as an observer from afar, I see the situation as Obama (and his administration) like being someone who has one a million dollar lottery, then told that the money will be paid in yearly installments of $1000. He's inherited a clusterfuck left by a country that let an idiot continue his brainless run because his opponent looked like Herman Munster!!

Spring is coming, but you might just have to put up with a chill or two before the first buds emerge. It's "fixing" time, not growing time. Like the ER nurse responsible for triage, some things will either have to get put on the back burner, or dealt with by those most affected by it.

I guess you could see if the Iranian method works, but I wouldn't recommend it.

It's interesting to see that in NZ, instead of protesting about the recession, people are doing volunteer work: http://www.3news.co.nz/News/NationalNews/Recession-brings-spike-in-volunteer-work/tabid/423/articleID/109423/cat/64/Default.aspx

Maybe there are other solutions.
Ededarzakh on June 21st, 2009 11:06 am (UTC)
"gay", not "hay"
Dottie Dear: Happy Lenoredottie_dear on June 21st, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)
Heh. I thought you were just hadding hayches. ;>
Dottie Dear: close-updottie_dear on June 21st, 2009 02:26 pm (UTC)
I could go along with your reasoning apart from this one niggling factoid:

In both the brief and the enforcement of the 1993 law, the Obama adminstration has taken active steps to promote regressive and destructive policies.

In the case of the brief, I've yet to find a legal expert weighing in who thinks that the content that has the LGBT community up in arms was relevant to the content of the case and what is before the Court; all, even those who vigorously oppose same-sex marriage, stated that the language was gratuitous, pejorative, irrelevant, and cruel.

Similarly, with regard to the travel law, our sitting Vice President was the Democratic sponsor of the new law that was signed last summer. As I reported, it was truly bipartisan and had the full support of President Bush. Every bit of analysis and reporting done, that I can find, regarding the 1993 law finds it lacking, of no real use and/or damaging. In fact, it was not being enforced (at least regarding HIV/AIDS) prior to President Obama's inauguration--as is evidenced by the free travel of many HIV+ non-US citizens to and through the US prior to that time. Yet, Obama's administration has elected to ignore last year's legislation and to pick up enforcement of the 1993 law?

In both cases, this administration has expended energy to move the federal posture in negative directions. To my mind, that's substantially different from just not getting to something yet, due to the pile of crap sitting on one's desk.

As further evidence I will submit the lack of acknowledgement or commentary regarding the brief's content. Major publications, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic Monthly, carried the story--with no comment from the President. The same President who then gave the same campaign-style lip-service to repealing DOMA when presenting the federal employee domestic partner benefits progress. How can the same administration say in a legal document, which will provide precedent citations for future cases, "DOMA is reasonable, does not discriminate, and is in the best financial and social interests of the nation"; and then, six days later say, "DOMA is bad and, as I've said, needs to be repealed"?

Ed, you are often more willing to offer the benefit of the doubt than I, particularly to politicians, but can you really weigh these things out and find the current administration's behavior benign?
Ededarzakh on June 22nd, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)
Like I said, I can't authoritatively comment without a non-subjective context. Even then, Obama is no less than any other newly elected country leader finding his seated focus is different from his standing one.

My oblique perspective could be represented by this: http://sendables.jibjab.com/originals/hes_barack_obama