AIDS United centers racial justice in all that we do. It is key to our participatory grant-making, central to our capacity building and technical assistance, and indispensable from our public policy advocacy.
Black people make up about 13% of the U.S. population. Despite that, according to data on AIDSVu, 40% of the people living with HIV in 2020 were Black and Black people accounted for 42% of new HIV diagnoses that year. There are six times as many Black men living with HIV than white men, and new HIV diagnoses among Black women outpaces diagnoses in white women by a 17-to-1 margin. One particularly alarming study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that nearly two-thirds of Black transgender women are living with HIV.
It needs to be said: there is nothing about Black biology or genetics that makes us more susceptible to HIV. Instead, these disparities are driven by social, economic and structural inequities. So many public health threats — from HIV to COVID-19 to mpox — have collectively exposed how the legacy of white supremacy and the persistence of racism in our health care system render Black people vulnerable to disease and death.
And it is for these reasons racial justice is an integral part of our work to end the HIV epidemic.
Public Policy Council
AIDS United’s Public Policy Council has adopted a racial justice framework to its by-laws. It first defines racial justice as “the collective practice of people of color and their allies to identify, dismantle, and heal from the many external and internal harms of structural and institutional racism.” It then goes on to say that the council will “consciously work to transform institutions that enable white supremacy and compromise the health and wellbeing of communities of color.”
It puts these principles into action in a variety of ways. Perhaps most notably through the AIDS United Racial Justice Index. The index was created through a collaboration of council members and a broad cohort of community experts. The index is a tool to identify areas of growth with respect to racial justice for organizations in the HIV field. The index is being tested presently, and will be available to organizations following refinement.
Recently, AIDS United’s commitment to racial justice has translated into our support for the following policy proposals (nonexhaustive list):
- Increased funding for new and innovative programs to expand access for preexposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, medication which prevents HIV. PrEP has been inequitably distributed to racial communities with the lowest incidence of HIV diagnoses.
- Increased funding for the Minority AIDS Initiative, which supports Black grassroots community-based organizations and expands access for high-quality HIV services for the racial communities most impacted by the epidemic. The program was funded at $60 million in the 2023 budget, an increase of $3 million above the 2022 level.
- Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore voter protections contained within the 1965 Voting Rights Act law and enable voters of color to access the ballot without barriers.
- Passage of the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, which acknowledges the role of structural racism in our public health infrastructure and would create two new programs in the CDC to address racial injustices in health.