As Midterms Loom, Trump’s HIV/AIDS Council Still Has No Members

Just months after President Trump took office, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS quit in protest. In an op-ed announcing their resignations, former council member Scott A. Schoettes explained that his colleagues could no longer ignore the “many signs” that Trump does not take the needs of people living with HIV seriously.

“The Trump Administration has no strategy to address the on-going HIV/AIDS epidemic, seeks zero input from experts to formulate HIV policy, and — most concerning — pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease,” wrote Schoettes, who directs the HIV Project at Lambda Legal.

A month later, the remaining council members warned Tom Price, Trump’s health czar at the time, that GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of new and preventable HIV infections. Medicaid expansion has allowed more people to access HIV prevention and treatment services, and repealing the ACA would exacerbate racial inequalities in health coverage that help explain why Black Americans are disproportionally impacted by HIV in the United States.

In December 2017, Trump fired them all. The dismissal of the council’s remaining members was framed as routine — the Obama administration replaced council members from the Bush years — but former council members told media outlets that the timing was suspect. As the November elections approach, their former seats on the president’s HIV/AIDS council remain vacant.

The purge of Trump’s HIV/AIDS advisory council is just one example of how the administration has failed people of color and LGBTQ people while advancing policies that could harm millions who are historically marginalized due to their racial, gender and/or sexual identity, according to a new report from the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), a civil rights group that works to empower Black LGBTQ people.

The report was released Wednesday as members of the Black Youth Project 100 and the Black AIDS Institute met with leading Democrats in Congress as part of an advocacy day organized by NBJC. Meanwhile, progressive Democrats have recently won high-profile primaries, and historic numbers of LGBTQ candidates and candidates of color are expected to appear on ballots across country, suggesting that Trump may be stoking a backlash from millions of voters who are not white or heteronormative.

An Economist/YouGov poll conducted this week shows only 15 percent of Black voters approve of Trump’s job performance, while 66 percent of Black voters agree that the country is “on the wrong track.” Exit polls show that only 14 percent of voters who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender cast votes for Trump in 2016. As the midterms loom, the Pew Research Center reports that enthusiasm is highest among Democratic voters, who are much more likely than Republicans to consider racial justice and LGBTQ rights at the polls.

The NBJC report grades the White House’s performance like a school report card. The organization gave the Trump administration an “F” grade in every policy area it examined, including health care, family and relationship recognition, housing and employment. From jumpstarting the war on drugs to rolling back protections for transgender students, Trump has used executive orders and other unilateral tools of power to undermine hard-fought advancements for LGBTQ people of color.

“It is dangerous and inaccurate to think that the current presidential administration has been ineffective,” said David J. Johns, executive director of the NBJC, in a statement. “As evidenced in this report, the current administration has been destructively productive and the impact of their efforts will be felt for decades to come.”

The administration has also pushed Congress to cut food assistance funding, defund reproductive health services and slash budgets for environmental protection and civil rights programs at federal agencies, all while securing deep tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

The list goes on. While the Trump agenda has had mixed success in Congress, the NBJC report warns that Trump has used executive power to dismantle advances in civil rights for people of color and LGTBQ people secured by the Obama administration, according to the report.

For example, Trump issued a controversial executive order “protecting religious liberty” earlier this year that prompted lawmakers in Kansas and Oklahoma to allow faith-biased adoption agencies to cite religious beliefs when refusing to place children with LGBTQ parents, even if the agencies receive public funding. Republicans in Congress later moved to undermine rules prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination among state adoption agencies.

The Trump administration is also attempting to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, which could result in the undercounting of communities of color and skew data that agencies use to distribute federal resources. The effort has faced a series of legal challenges and is currently tied up in court.

Of course, Trump has shown little interest in appealing to queer voters and voters of color as a candidate and as president. Instead, he stoked racial tensions on the campaign trail and has rallied religious conservatives, white nativists and other voters who feel threatened by the nation’s changing demographics to his side.

Trump is not up for re-election until 2020, but controversies surrounding the White House have dominated the headlines since his inauguration. With Democrats hoping to regain control of the House, the midterm elections may very well be a referendum on Trump’s policies. LGBTQ candidates and candidates of color — including women and immigrants — are running for office in historic numbers. If those directly harmed by Trump’s policies rally to the polls, they could very well bring the “blue wave” crashing down with them.