Thoughts on HIV and NC Harm Reduction Advocacy Day.

This year’s HIV and Harm Reduction Advocacy Day was April 29 in Raleigh. This is my third year attending on behalf of NCAAN (NC AIDS Action Network) and NCHRC (NC Harm Reduction Coalition).

There was a sense of being “okay” that day in Raleigh. Underneath what the other advocates and I were doing, there permeated this notion that we were advocating on behalf of those who, for a myriad of reasons, were unable to travel and speak for themselves. Of course that was there. It’s “advocacy’s” definition. It was also fantastic and a little intoxicating to speak with representatives from my district who seemed to “get it”–the importance of access to medical care, medicaid, and other basic services for those living with and affected by HIV. The importance of having more powerful allies, regardless of party affiliation, who took time out of the busy day to spend just ten minutes hearing us, and understanding the importance of our place as North Carolinians. It was great. It puffed me up, and my ego was going, “YEAH! This is GREAT! You spoke the TRUTH!”

Now for the other piece–the piece where the ego meets the awareness–or, the place where the ego meets an obstacle. Not to be a Debbie Downer at all, but just aware…I thought, “That was easy. That was a little too easy.” I was preaching to the choir. In my district, I was lucky to have buy in and face time before I even opened my mouth. I mentioned the agency, Triad Health Project, where I work, and while I was blessed and grateful that the representatives with whom I spoke knew of us and the valuable work we do, and agreed with what we were pitching, I thought–“I wonder how this would go down if I had to fight harder? How would I deal with closed ears, polite nods, and rejection?”

What about those people in our state government who don’t feel they have a dog in the fight for HIV funding, stigma reduction, HIV decriminalization, Harm Reduction Bills, and the advocacy NCAAN and NCHRC do? I want to say to those state legislators the following:

Okay, sure. You may not think you have a dog in this fight. You may think “No way–not my issue, and definitely NOT in my backyard.” But, you DO have a dog, and I bet that dog can fight. And you DO have a backyard, and I bet it’s just a matter of time before HIV and Harm Reduction issues show up in it. So, rather than becoming reactionary, and making a party line decision based on what your party is doing, or making a decision based on fear, on stigma, on belief, even…why not dig a little deeper for facts, statistics, and have conversations with those of us in the state who are living with HIV, with addiction, and with those who are working so hard to insure access to services that provide medicine, dignity, support, and empowerment to those with HIV and addictions…don’t you think that by doing so, you’d strengthen your own “dog” and also make your own backyard a safer, better place to be?

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That’s what I didn’t get to say at NCAAN and NCHRC Advocacy Day. And that’s what I think ought to be said, and heard in our state.

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