Obama Acts on HIV/AIDS

President Obama signs the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act today, with Ryan's mother, Jeanne, looking on.

President Obama signs the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act today, with Ryan's mother, Jeanne, looking on.

With today’s signing of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act and his announcement that the final rule will be published on Monday to end the HIV travel ban in America, President Obama has taken two great steps to make America a better, safer place.  Waymon Hudson has a great summary up at Bilerico, and Kerry Eleveld broke the travel ban news at The Advocate last night.

The President, eloquent as ever today, said in part:

It has been nearly three decades since this virus first became known.  But for years, we refused to recognize it for what it was.  It was coined a “gay disease.”  Those who had it were viewed with suspicion.  There was a sense among some that people afflicted by AIDS somehow deserved their fate and that it was acceptable for our nation to look the other way. . . .

But it will also take an effort to end the stigma that has stopped people from getting tested; that has stopped people from facing their own illness; and that has sped the spread of this disease for far too long.  A couple of years ago Michelle and I were in Africa and we tried to combat the stigma when we were in Kenya by taking a public HIV/AIDS test.  And I’m proud to announce today we’re about to take another step towards ending that stigma.

Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS.  Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease — yet we’ve treated a visitor living with it as a threat.  We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic — yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country.

If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it.  And that’s why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year.  Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it.  We are finishing the job.  It’s a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it’s a step that will keep families together, and it’s a step that will save lives.

Thank you, President Obama, for finishing this long-overdue job.

Andrew Sullivan, a longtime critic of the travel ban, had this to say:

For me, it is the end of 16 years of profound insecurity. Like many others, my application for permanent residence and citizenship can go forward. And I will be able to see my family again in England and know that my HIV will not force me to choose between my husband and the country I have come to call my home. There is no price to be put on that.

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About the Author

Chris Geidner is the award-winning senior political & legal reporter at BuzzFeed and has written for Metro Weekly, The Atlantic Online, The American Prospect, Advocate.com, Salon and other publications, as well as at his blog, Law Dork. He has appeared regularly on television commenting on current affairs, including MSNBC, PBS, HLN & Current. Prior to moving to D.C. in 2009, he served as an attorney on the senior staff at the Ohio Attorney General's Office and had earlier worked for a leading Columbus law firm. An extended biography can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter.