“We Are Americans, Too.” – Jesse Milan Jr.’s AIDSWatch 2024 Plenary Opening Remarks

Good morning!  Welcome to day two of AIDSWatch plenaries, discussions and workshops.  I’m Jesse Milan, CEO of AIDS United, and for those who don’t know me, I’m a gay man!  

And not to say anything too stereotypical, but as a gay man, I love picking out my outfits. And I want to be clear; In this political year, I thought it was very important to come in red, white, and blue because we are Americans, too. Say it with me — we are Americans, too.  

GOD bless us, America (from the crowd) 

Yes, GOD bless us as Americans, too!  

I want to be very clear as we start this AIDSWatch, that we in HIV community, we have a unique prespective with how much as democracy is at risk this year, because as the HIV community, we understand how much democracy is important to us.  

Because of this democracy can help satisfy our needs for our health, our rights, and our lives- and those are at risk this year.  

And as part of American democracy, we understand how important it is, that we vote and who vote for.  

And it’s important that those who have been elected to serve in the chambers of our democracy to understand that they have a responsibility and a role to help sustain and improve our lives. To sustain and improve our health and our rights and that’s why AIDSWatch is important. 

Because as people living with HIV, as people who are vulnerable to HIV, as people who care about all those impacted by HIV — we have an important story because we are Americans too. 

Our health, our lives, and our rights matter. Tomorrow, we will go to the hill and remind those who served in the chambers of our democracy that we were expecting them, that we need them, that we want them to stand with us, to stand for us, and to stand against those foes in those chambers who would take us back and deny our lives, our health, and our rights.

We have been there before — we will not have our health, lives, and rights dismissed. We will not have them ignored or denied. We will not go back.  

And we need those representatives in Congress to help move us forward. Forward toward ending this epidemic.   

We have great stories to tell. The work that you all do and that is done in your communities to end this epidemic is tremendous. We have amazing stories. We also have stories of great sadness, great need, and gaps that need to be filled.  

We have a community that needs Congress to help us so that there are no more transmissions of HIV ever, so that no one else ever has a diagnosis of AIDS, and that no one else ever dies of AIDS.  That’s why we are here.  

We have great progress to report and to share with Congress tomorrow; the stories of success in our communities. We also know from the CDC’s data that there has been a decline in new HIV transmission. That is a great story, but that decline is not what it should or can be. For all of us, not for gay men of color,  

It’s not what it needs to be for black women.  

It’s not what is needs to be for our transgender sisters and our transgender brothers.  

It’s not what it needs to be for people who use drugs, and it’s not what it needs to be if you live in the South. 

We also have great stories to tell. 

We know that viral suppression is on the rise, and we have the Ryan White program especially to thank for that and you will hear today from Carol Johnson from HRSA. 

But not all communities are having the same rise in viral suppression; we need more black and brown people to be virally suppressed, more members of our transgender community to be virally suppressed, more youth, and more elders. 

And we know we know that no matter where you live in this country to know enough about PrEP. Not enough of us are on prep, and not enough of us have access to prep  

And quite frankly, not enough of us know the wonder of U equals U (U=U).  

I want to be very clear that whether you live in a red state or a blue state, there are legislators and government officials lurking in chambers who are hell-bent on denying the rights of people who are LGBTQ.

There are legislators and government officials lurking in chambers who would reverse or deny the rights of a woman to choose, there are legislators and government officials who are lurking in chambers who would take us back, who want to erase part of American history –  the role that black and brown people and LGBTQ people have played in making America great – we are part of this country. We have done great things, and our democracy is stronger because of its diversity. And we are part of that diversity because we are Americans too. 

And I’m going to go off script to for just a moment, some of those people who are coming here to flee violence and corruption and poverty and danger — they want to be part of America, too 

So AIDSWatch this year is as important as it’s ever been because we will tell Congress what we need, how much we need, and where we need it so that we will be more equal, more whole, and more America.  

Now, this year, as we do every year, we will carry with us as we go to the hill; we will carry in our hearts those who we have loved and lost. And there are too many to name. 

But I want to recognize at least three advocates for our community, three women of color, Dr. Ada Adimora, Cecilia Gentili, Hydeia Broadbent. [Remarks shorten here for clarify] 

So, I’m excited. You can see I’m a little pumped up. I wore my red, white, and blue — to remind us all what we need congress to do what we need Congress to do we need Congress to stand up, to work and act to preserve and protect our Constitution, and to preserve and protect our lives, our health, and our rights … because we are Americans too.  

GOD bless us, America (from the crowd) 

AIDS United CEO Jesse Milan Jr. stands atop a podium with his hands outstretched, speaking to a crowd.

Watch full address and following fireside chat on AIDSUnited youtube.