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Amid difficult times, we must keep fighting to preserve HIV/AIDS services

Hundreds of thousands of people came together yesterday through vigils in cities all across the country to remember those we have lost to HIV/AIDS and to recommit themselves to fighting the spread of AIDS. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking officials gathered at the White House to discuss the epidemic and how we as a nation should respond. And in New York City, people took to the streets to protest drastic cuts to funding for AIDS programs and the elimination of a City Hall office devoted to AIDS policy.

In California, we still have a state of crisis. While the number of deaths from AIDS has dropped slightly over the past several years, the number of people living with AIDS has risen steadily since 2002. We must continue the hard work of preventing new infections and ensuring that those who are HIV positive have access to the care and support they need, regardless of their income.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget is due to be submitted in less than two months. The Governor’s budget will then be debated and discussed by the Legislature. With the state facing a projected shortfall of $21 billion, the heat will be on again to figure out how to get our state back on the path to prosperity. But if Californians do not have their health, prosperity will stay out of reach.

I am hopeful that we can preserve critical services for Californians with HIV and AIDS next year. It will be a tough fight, and we will all need to tell our legislators and the governor how critical these services are for our community. We have some great champions in the legislature, and Equality California and its PAC are committed to endorsing and electing candidates for the legislature and a governor that will stand with us and not allow vital services for people living with HIV/AIDS to be cut. Further, just yesterday in Los Angeles, a hearing was called by Assemblymember Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) that was well-attended by many local officials and by leading AIDS service organizations and nonprofits. We must keep this momentum and continue to build upon it. Lives depend on our willingness to take action.

It’s important to remember those we have lost. But we also have to keep fighting for the living. Please join me and Equality California over the coming months in demanding that California preserve the vital HIV/AIDS services upon which many members of our community depend.