For a first-time participant, AIDSWatch 2018 was quite the experience. Organized by AIDS United and presented by the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, AIDSWatch is the country’s largest HIV/AIDS political advocacy event. Never having lobbied elected officials before on behalf of people living with and affected by HIV, it was both humbling and intimidating.
Individuals, groups, politicians, and even Project Runway judges came from all over to to appeal as a community to elected officials on Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill. I was fortunate enough this year to receive a scholarship to attend the event. I was paired with another scholar from another part of the country. Because HIV advocates tend to be active on social media, I soon found him on Facebook and Instagram, connecting with him before we even met!
Arriving in Washington, I settled in, grabbed dinner, and prepared for my first AIDSWatch event the next morning. That first day was a lot to take in. I sat down to breakfast at the Illinois table, since we were grouped by state. By 8 a.m. a sea of people representing all 50 had gathered in the hotel’s grand ballroom. It was nothing short of breathtaking.
AIDS United President and CEO Jesse Milan, Jr. gave his welcoming address, every state’s delegation was acknowledged, and I felt the excitement in the room. Everyone was there to advocate and demand care for those living with, vulnerable to, and affected by HIV/AIDS.
The morning moved quickly after hearing from gay heartthrob and Pennsylvania state legislator Brian K. Sims and Project Runway’s Zac Posen. Their speeches motivated us for the training that came shortly after lunch, where we sat, grouped by state again, and learned the best techniques for speaking with our elected officials. Unfortunately, the timing of AIDSWatch coincided with the spring recess, so most of Congress was out of town. However, in a House of Cards sort of way, meeting with legislative assistants felt even more precarious because they’re the gatekeepers to our elected leaders. Unlike the Netflix series, I left feeling that I helped tip the scales, holding the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS in the right direction.
James Craig is Special Events Coordinator for TPAN (the non-profit community-based ASO service organization that is Positively Aware’s publisher). An avid cyclist, he helps organize TPAN’s annual Ride for AIDS event.