September 1st was a day of mixed emotions for many in Alabama, the South, and throughout the country, especially here at VamosTogether. September 1st was the day Alabama’s “Juan Crow” HB56 was supposed to take full effect and force thousands of undocumented immigrants into hiding or into refugee status as the law would take away their most basic rights- to get medical care, to drive their children to school, to sign a lease on the roof over their heads, and to work for their children’s food.
VamosTogether and other groups (SPLC, Appleseed, HICA, DreamActivists, and ACIJ to name a few) spent the summer organizing in the communities, marching in the streets, fighting in the courts, raising awareness in the media, holding sit-ins, providing legal and social services, and praying for justice. VamosTogether, despite arrest and police harassment, went forward with the “I Have A Dream March” on the State Capitol for Immigrant and HIV Justice on August 28th, the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s speech. Our efforts were rewarded the next day as the court announced an injunction on HB56, preventing it from going into effect until at least Sept. 28 unless otherwise stated. This was a breath of fresh air for thousands of families across the state that were facing the toughest of decisions.
While hundreds gathered in solidarity in front of the state capitol, we prayed with Rev. Graetz, who not only worked with Rosa Parks and Rev. King on the Montgomery bus boycott, but also survived three attacks on his family by the Klu Klux Klan. Graetz told the press that opposition to the immigration statute was just “one more phase of the civil rights movement.” Rev. Graetz has stories of the civil rights movement to tell, stories of injustice and activism, stories of sadness and hope; but he also has another story to tell. That is the story of his son, whom he and his beloved wife of 60 years lost to HIV/AIDS. The Graetz’s have long known that discrimination and injustice come in all forms- based not only on the color of your skin, but that it could also be based on the gender of the person you love or the virus in your blood.
Unfortunately Sept. 1st was a day of sadness to hundreds of thousands of people like the Graetzs who either have HIV or know (or have known) people with HIV.
According to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation:
“As of September 1st over 10,000 low-income Americans with HIV/AIDS are on a waiting list [deathlist] or have been dropped by the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), the network of federal and state funded programs that provide life-saving HIV treatments to low income, uninsured, and underinsured individuals living with HIV/AIDS nationwide. Several states have also recently capped further enrollment in their ADAPs or are sharply reducing eligibility for their programs based on a percentage of Federal Poverty Level (FPL) income (in some cases cutting the FPL-eligible income from 400% to 200%), effectively denying needy patients access to medications. But because program enrollment is officially capped—or eligibility eliminated entirely—these additional patients are never formally added to a state’s ADAP waiting list roster.”
Over 90% of people on an ADAP death list are in the Southeast. A similarly high number are racial minorities. The rural Southeast has long been the epicenter of hate, and today it is also the epicenter of the HIV epidemic in America. Minority health care, like minority public schools, has never been fully funded in Alabama, which has a history (Tuskegee Syphilis Study) of medical racism. ADAP’s deathlists, like HB56, demean, dehumanize, and harm the least of these in our society. They harm the hidden, the hated, the marginalized, the stigmatized, and the silent. They harm the working families and the poor. They harm the sick. They harm the people who live in the shadows because of fear, legitimate fear, about what would happen if they decided not to hide their status. What would happen if their boss, their relatives, their friends, their neighbors, their daughter’s school, or the prison system knew about their HIV or citizenship status? Would they be fired? Would they be able to feed their kids or afford their medications? Would they be disowned by their friends or family or neighbors who are blinded by hate? Would their daughter’s teacher treat her as anything other than a child of God? Would they be deported or placed in solitary confinement or have their HIV status revealed? When it comes to transportation, housing, medical care, employment, and incarceration HIV and immigrant discrimination take similar forms and the power of stigma and marginalization punishes these already discriminated against groups.
If HB56 takes effect later this month, many people will be denied medical care because they can’t provide a social security number. Undocumented immigrants on ADAP might lose their HIV medications because the state could perform an audit of ADAP patients and sentence the undocumented to death. The state could do this because it is the state that provides social security numbers, even through these victims were given life and created in the image of God. Unfortunately, God didn’t provide everyone with a social security number- God must have assumed that a heart, a mind, and a soul would suffice.
However, Alonzo Dukes, Executive Director of the Southern AIDS Commission in Greenville, Mississippi, a state that lets 1/2 of its HIV population go untreated- a rate comparable to Rwanda, told the Human Rights Watch, which recently incriminated Mississippi for violating the human rights of its HIV-positive residents: “I’ve been called a nigger and a faggot by state legislators right in the Capitol.”
At a vigil in a small church in Montgomery, Alabama on September 1st, Rev. Graetz read the words of an incarcerated but immortal Rev. King: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny [....] Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Rev. Graetz has spent his life working towards Rev. King’s dream of the Beloved Community, and like many others, he realizes the dream is not reality yet- not for the hidden and the hated in our communities. So WeGoTogether, VamosTogether, to the Beloved Community.