“AIDS is still not over; there’s still no cure,” said Kennedy, 58, executive director of the Ontario AIDS Network. “We’re people, not fish. You can’t just medicate us and release us. We still need to work hard to connect people to treatment and care and keep them there.”
Kennedy said he’ll attend the conference this week. Asked what he thought of Weinstein referring to HIV/AIDS activists as becoming “lazy,” Kennedy said: “There’s been some complacency. It’s been 30 years of fighting for many of us. We need to renew ourselves. That’s one of the things a global conference does.”
Just before the opening ceremonies, about two dozen people, accompanied by blasts from a vuvuzela, marched to the front of the room protesting U.S. immigration laws that prohibit entry to self-proclaimed drug addicts and sex workers.
Many were heavily tattooed, some wore green plastic Statue of Liberty crowns and a few carried red umbrellas emblazoned with the slogan “Only rights can stop the wrongs.”
For several minutes, they chanted, “Nothing about us without us.” A member of the audience stood and asked, “How can you have a legitimate conference when some of the most affected populations cannot attend?”
The group followed the rules for protests at international AIDS conferences — brevity and lack of violence. Some in the past have not been as well behaved. In several conferences, speakers and organizers were spattered with fake blood.
Then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson endured continuous blaring of horns and screams of “Shame, shame!” at the 2002 conference in Barcelona.
Obama’s absence is the other early point of controversy.
A White House spokeswoman said, “The president’s schedule will preclude him from opening the conference.” She noted that many heads of state haven’t appeared at previous conferences.
Asked at the news briefing whether she was unhappy with the president’s decision, the conference co-chairman, Havlir said diplomatically: “We’re very, very proud of what the Obama administration has done for the AIDS response. We’re disappointed we won’t have the chance to tell him directly.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) came to the president’s defense. “He not only talks the talk, he walks the walk,” said Lee, who went to her first AIDS conference, in Durban, South Africa, in 2000, two years after she was elected. “We know this president of the United States gets it.”