In a few weeks, Americans are going to the polls to determine the next occupant of the White House and, on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, the composition of Congress. This election is of critical importance to us and to our friends around the world.
Allow me to explain.
It’s not just that Barack Obama is, in my considered opinion, the best President this country has had since at least Dwight Eisenhower. Or that something feels deeply right about a man of color sitting in Abraham Lincoln’s chair, in a house built by slaves. Or that I love my country enough to want to see it respected, not just feared, around the world. America is, for me, not just some spot on a map with a flag and a theme song; it is my home, and above all, an idea, that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights, among them the right to pursue happiness as we see fit. The mother of exiles, as it says on that statue down in the harbor.
No, it is also the simple fact that, for a gay man with HIV, this administration is both the most compassionate and most competent to serve since, well, ever. This matters to you more than you may think, even if you’re not an American. And if you are, you might want to consider that what America does impacts lives far beyond our borders, whether we appreciate that fact or not.
In terms of HIV and AIDS policy, this administration has taken steps that are simply unprecedented. To begin with, thirty years and counting into the epidemic, the United States actually has a National HIV and AIDS Policy, NHAP, executed out of the Executive Office of the President. In an age of economic discontent and shrinking budgets – and an unhinged opposition party, one might add – the billions of dollars this government spends on HIV and AIDS, for treatment, prevention and research, are being well spent.
As an aside, Ronald Reagan didn’t even see fit to utter the word AIDS until a year before he left office, all the while the epidemic raged unchecked on these shores and abroad. How many lives might have been saved if it had been otherwise, personally, I’d prefer to not even think about. Such a small word, and he couldn’t say it.
In retrospect, of course, we know why; because that little word was ‘just’ killing off undesirables; homosexuals, drug users, the poor, people of color, in this country and abroad. So what if the killing accelerated and took millions of lives, if those lives don’t have any intrinsic value?
Barack Obama is different. On his watch, gay, lesbian, bi and trans Americans – people – have advanced faster and further towards equality than ever before. This President is not going to let people like me, or you, die like flies – because for him, we have that intrinsic value. This President believes we should be able to get married; unobjectionable in a civilized country like Canada, a bit more politically hazardous when you and Alabama use the same passport. There are openly gay members of Congress, Federal judges, heads of cabinet departments, ambassadors, U.S. Marines. Tasty U.S. Marines, but I digress.
And while this is all very well and good, and of piece with a flawed society learning to accept its sexual minorities, in terms of HIV, it also begins to chip away at the foundation of stigma that to this day is the root cause of the epidemic. To be sure, there is still hate; but there is less of it, in part because it is no longer sanctioned from the very top of the proverbial food chain.
I say above that what America does matters, and this not because myopic flag-waving is my thing. But turn on your television, open your medicine cabinet, go to the grocery store, and we’re there. The world has an interest in seeing America becoming, in fits and starts to be sure, a more progressive and tolerant place – because we export our values along with our TV shows, ARVs and fighter jets.
This November, keep your fingers crossed that we decide this kind of progress is what we want for another four years. Because it will make your life better if we do.