Real people, real stories: That’s what AIDSWatch is about. This two-day advocacy event held annually in Washington, DC, brings people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS to Capitol Hill to put a human face to the U.S. epidemic and educate policymakers about the real-world impacts of their funding decisions.
“This year, more than 400 HIV/AIDS advocates convened over April 28 and 29 to share personal perspectives from their hometowns and inform Congress and the Obama administration about the many ways the epidemic continues to impact communities across the country,” explains San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s director of legislative affairs Ernest Hopkins, who accompanied the California advocates to DC.
One participant from San Diego told policymakers that she tested HIV positive four years ago—but today she advocates for not for herself but for young people. When her teenage son acquired HIV, she began handing out condoms and offering HIV prevention counseling to students outside the local high school, and at AIDSWatch she advocated passionately for comprehensive sex ed in early grades so students have the knowledge they need to stay HIV negative.
A recent UC Berkeley graduate currently applying to law schools shared that her father was diagnosed with AIDS when she was just four years old. His illness and ultimate death threw her family into poverty, she told policymakers, but they stayed together and found their financial footing thanks to support from San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Her deeply personal story highlighted the importance of continued federal funding of HIV/AIDS-related programs and services for the most HIV-affected in our communities.
San Francisco AIDS Foundation was the California Statewide Coordinator for AIDSWatch 2014 and held a dozen meetings with key congressional offices for the state’s participants. “Despite the very tight schedule and rainy day, the participants were successful in conveying to policymakers the importance of federal HIV/AIDS programs to Californians,” says Hopkins.
Congress members and staff weren’t the only ones gaining insight during AIDSWatch; advocates also got an education on key federal policy issues related to HIV/AIDS. “Policy briefings provided the participants with the current ‘state of play’ on Capitol Hill,” Hopkins notes, and helped advocates hone their skills before addressing policymakers about the needs of people living with HIV across the country.
AIDSWatch 2014 was a successful advocacy event—one that harnessed the power of human stories to advance our federal policy and funding goals in the fight to end the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Have you seen how the stories and advocacy efforts of AIDSWatch participants make a difference—at home and across the nation? Let us know in the comments below.
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