HIV-Positive Speaker at Convention, Clinton Campaign Announces (Video)

Daniel Driffin
Daniel Driffin

BY KAREN OCAMB  |  The Democratic National Convention kicked off Monday with an angry uproar over Wikileaks-leaked emails showing that former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was right in complaining that the supposedly neutral Democratic National Committee apparently put their fingers on the scale in favor of Hillary Clinton. Reports that the Russian government was behind the leaked emails—and for the LGBT community, that at least four DNC gays were also involved—seemed to matter less than the exploding outrage towards DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was forced to resign and relinquish the gave in order to present a show of unity in the Democratic Party.

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Unlike the dark Republican Party convention last week, the Democrats will host wall-to-wall power players, celebrities and “real people” whose stories illustrate the issues. Headlining Monday night under the umbrella theme of “United Together,” for instance, are First Lady Michelle Obama, former Clinton rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren—who will deliver the keynote address—and DREAMer Astrid Silva. (Click here for more info.)

In addition to Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and other gay and lesbian speakers, the Clinton campaign will make history by having a transgender advocate speak from the convention stage. Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, is slated to speak on Thursday, along side openly gay New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who co-chairs the Congressional LGBT Caucus.

“Sarah’s personal story and unending commitment to LGBT rights makes her an invaluable voice to have in the conversation,” said out California Rep. Mark Takano of Riverside, co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. “We look forward to working with her to make full legal and social equality a reality.”

Late Monday, the campaign also announced that it will provide a platform for an openly HIV-positive speaker, the first time in 16 years HIV/AIDS is being addressed at a convention. Then Jesse Milan spoke at the 2000 convention in Los Angeles nominating Vice President Al Gore, though not in primetime.

But in some ways, this is coming full circle. Having an HIV-positive speaker was a very big deal in 1992, during the height of the AIDS Crisis, when Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton named his Los Angeles-based presidential campaign aide Bob Hattoy and Pediatric AIDS Foundation founder Elizabeth Glaser to speak in primetime. Not a dry eye in the house, with “watch parties” marking the historic moment. Mary Fisher was their counter-part that year, with the straight, white mother of two moving many as the only light to the dark convention that nominated George H.W. Bush. Black AIDS Institute founder and CEO Phill Wilson also spoke in primetime at the 1996 convention in Chicago where Bill Clinton was nominated for re-election.

There have been no openly HIV-positive speakers since Milan in 2000, including during the two conventions under President Barack Obama, even as the crisis moved into people of color communities.  

A group of AIDS activists representing more than 100 organizations worked to get an HIV-positive speaker at each convention and impact the Democratic and Republican party platforms.  The group came together after Hillary Clinton mistakenly gave the late Nancy Reagan credit for helping people with AIDS at a time when her husband, President Ronald Reagan and his administration seemed content to let gay men with AIDS die. AIDS activist Peter Staley penned a letter to Clinton and her campaign (which was also sent to all other presidential campaigns) asking for a personal meeting and, among other demands, “a commitment to end AIDS as an epidemic in the United States by 2025.”

Clinton met with the activists in May. Before the meeting, she called for reform of HIV criminalization laws and “once and for all,” ending the epidemic.  

“[W]e need to rededicate ourselves to fighting HIV and AIDS, and leaving no one behind,” Clinton said. “That means continuing to increase research and expanding the use of medications like PrEP. It means capping out-of-pockets expenses and drug costs, and building on President Obama’s National HIV and AIDS Strategy to increase the number of people on HIV treatment worldwide.”

Bernie Sanders met with the AIDS activists, but it didn’t end well.

Michael Emanuel Rajner thinking Clinton for reaching out to the AIDS activists. Photo courtesy Rajner.
Michael Emanuel Rajner thinking Clinton for reaching out to the AIDS activists. Photo courtesy Rajner.

Trump never followed through, despite a letter and calls, says AIDS activist Michael Emanuel Rajner.

The Clinton campaign, on the other hand, reached out to the activists and asked for a list of potential speakers, Rajner said. Daniel Driffin of Atlanta, GA, was at the top of their consensus list.  

Jaron Benjamin of Housing Works in New York described Driffin thusly: “He’s a 30 year old gay black man living with HIV, and a great public speaker. He will enter Morehouse School of Medicine’s MPHA program in the fall and has served as a Georgia Equality Youth HIV Policy Advisor. He was recently part of a PBS segment on the HIV epidemic in Atlanta. He’s also a founder of “Undetectables Atlanta,” a group of over 400 gay/bisexual men with HIV, and is also a founder of THRIVENESS, a non-profit service organization serving the same population. he also serves as co-chair of the Task Force to End AIDS in Fulton County, Georgia.”

In 2013, Driffin was the chair of the Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative, He  is currently completing coursework towards a Masters of Public Health. He will speak at 4:00pm Eastern, 1:00pm Pacific time on Wednesday.

“It’s such great news,” Rajner said. He got to thank Clinton for following through during her stop in Miami over the weekend. However, the group is still waiting for Clinton to commit to hard target numbers to reduce annual new infections.

Rajner also mentioned that while he got air time on MSNBC with Joy Reid, HIV/AIDS has not been given the attention the issue deserves with the annual rise in new HIV infections, especially in communities of color.

Rajner also said the group was able to influence the HIV/AIDS plank in the Democratic Party platform. “They adopted our recommended language” that changed language about stigma and replaced the promise to “address” HIV criminalization laws to “reform” the laws.

Rajner also sent out a recap of the HIV plank of the Democratic Party platform and the revisions he submitted to the DNC on behalf of the national coalition of HIV/AIDS activists that met with Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders and respective campaigns:

“HIV/AIDS Platform Language adopted by Platform Committee  

HIV and AIDS Democrats believe an AIDS-free generation is within our grasp. But today far too many Americans living with HIV are without access to quality care and too many new infections occur each year. That is why we will implement the National HIV and AIDS Strategy; increase research funding for the National Institutes of Health; cap pharmaceutical expenses for people living with HIV and AIDS; reform HIV criminalization laws; and expand access for harm reduction programs and HIV prevention medications, particularly for the populations most at risk of infection. Abroad, we will continue our commitment to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and increase global funding for HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment. Democrats will always protect those living with HIV and AIDS from stigma and discrimination.

Original language with the coalition’s suggestions for change:

Democrats believe an AIDS-free generation is within our grasp. But we know far too many Americans living with HIV are without access to quality care and too many new infections occur each year, which is why we will implement the National HIV and AIDS Strategy, increase research funding for the National Institutes of Health, cap pharmaceutical expenses for people living with HIV and AIDS, reform HIV criminalization laws, and expand access to harm reduction programs and HIV prevention medications, particularly for the populations most at risk of infection. Abroad, we will make the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief more effective and increase global funding for HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment to help achieve 30 million people living with HIV in treatment by 2020. Democrats will always protect those living with HIV and AIDS from stigma and discrimination.”

Here’s Rajner discussing the meeting with Clinton with Jo Reid:

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