Rosendall slams Washington Times column on HIV reporting[Note: The copyrighted newspaper column to which this letter responds is,
unfortunately, not available on the Washington Times website.]
Wednesday, August 25, 1999
Letters to the Editor
The Washington Times
3600 New York Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Adrienne T. Washington's column on HIV reporting ("Williams flip-flops over how to track HIV", August 24) claims that Councilmember Sandy Allen has switched sides to support names reporting and that she was shocked by the Mayor's decision for unique identifiers. In fact, Allen expressed pleasure with the Mayor's announcement in speaking with a GLAA member last week, and signed a joint Council letter on July 27 strongly opposing names reporting. She told me only two weeks ago that her strong opposition to names reporting had not changed.
Ms. Washington suggests that opponents of names-based reporting are monolithically white, gay, and male. Perhaps she should ask Catalina Sol of La Clínica del Pueblo, who discussed concerns about names reporting at a meeting in the Mayor's office on July 29, whether she considers herself a white male.
The suggestion that all whites are on one side of this issue and all blacks on another is belied by Ms. Washington's own observation that names advocate Ronald King, executive director of the HIV Community Coalition, "makes it clear that he is speaking for himself and not for his organization." In fact, numerous black organizations, as well as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and Congressman John Lewis, have publicly opposed names reporting.
Ms. Washington refers to Mayor Williams' "hasty decision." We are eight months into this administration, and have been arguing about the issue all that time. How can the decision possibly be considered hasty?
In a quote whose accuracy we doubt, Ms. Washington reports Councilmember Allen as saying that "nobody ever heard from the other side" -- despite the fact that Ron Lewis of the Agency for HIV/AIDS has been crusading within the administration for months in favor of names reporting. The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) had to protest loudly just to be allowed in the room for a Council of Governments roundtable meeting on the subject on July 1, which was requested by Lewis and was entirely one-sided in favor of names reporting. I myself faced a phalanx of names-reporting advocates at a meeting with the Mayor on July 26.
GLAA called for a hearing on this issue in January. We know of no supporters of names reporting who joined us in that call. We testified against names reporting in the Council's budget hearings, while Ron Lewis testified in favor of it.
As the July 27 Council letter states, "Even a CDC-sponsored study which aimed to discredit the concerns about names-based HIV reporting ended up showing that 20 percent of people interviewed identify names-based reporting as a factor preventing people from getting HIV tests." Furthermore, the CDC Draft Guidelines state that "CDC will provide technical assistance to all State and local areas ... regardless of whether they use name or non-name based identifiers." There is no guarantee that a name-based program would meet CDC performance standards any better than unique identifiers.
Ms. Washington quotes Ronald King as saying, "You don't treat numbers, you treat people." Does this cheap rhetoric actually mean anything? Based on this logic, we should abolish Social Security numbers because they treat recipients as numbers. What nonsense -- as if the way you store the data (which by its nature requires lots of numbers) affects how you treat people.
King also asserts that Williams spoke in support of names reporting during last year's campaign. We have Williams' signed answer to our candidate questionnaire, in which he explicitly opposes names reporting; his answers have been on our website for the past year. Did King offer Ms. Washington any comparable proof?
Washington asserts that "young gay men who practice risky behavior get numerous tests, often using different numbers, which skews the statistical data...." How could the use of names possibly solve this problem? If people can use different numbers, they can just as easily use false names. Contrary to Ms. Washington's suggestion, the risky behavior that leads to HIV infection is not a monopoly held by young gay men. Her implicit injection of a moral thermometer into the discussion exemplifies one of the very factors discouraging people from getting tested. In fact, fear of using real names is so common that we have learned of testers actually encouraging people to use fake names. How does this provide more reliable data?
Ms. Washington states that an epidemic is "no place for anyone -- including the mayor -- to play petty politics." Does she include herself in that? It takes considerable chutzpah for her to decry petty politics in the midst of a column filled with demagoguery and distortion. If she is truly concerned about a "racial schism," she should forthwith apologize for her own reckless efforts to ignite one. The public health -- not to mention public discourse -- would be better served if she would focus on the merits of the issue rather than traffic in vicious speculations about other people's motives. She will find a wealth of material on HIV reporting on GLAA's website at www.glaa.org.
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
cc: Adrienne T. Washington
Mayor Anthony Williams