Mike Pence delivered comments about World AIDS Day at the White House, despite his long history of anti-LGBTQ views and opposition to funding for the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS.
And, for the second year in a row, he omitted LGBTQ people entirely from his remarks.
When Pence ran for Congress in 2000, his campaign website said that federal HIV/AIDS funding from the Ryan White Care Act should be audited “to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus” and that money should instead be given to organizations that “provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
In other words, he thought conversion therapy was a decent way to fight the spread of HIV.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced a plan to take several million dollars from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to fund housing for immigrant children who had been separated from their families at the border.
Pence also has a history of opposing the use of condoms to prevent HIV, saying that “abstinence and marital faithfulness, before condom distribution, are the cure for what ails the families of Africa.”
As Governor of Indiana, Pence opposed a needle exchange program aimed at curbing a major outbreak of HIV infections in rural counties. Nearly 200 people were infected in one county alone before Pence begrudgingly “compromised” and allowed the local government to seek state approval to set up an exchange.
It took enormous amounts of pressure from health experts and state legislators from both sides of the aisle to sway Pence. It was the second largest public debacle of Pence’s term; the largest was when he tried to give businesses the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
“Mike Pence has spent his career putting people in danger by denying them access to HIV prevention and treatment,” said HRC’s Ashland Johnson.
“From spreading misinformation about condom use, to contributing to a major outbreak of HIV and AIDS in his home state, Pence has been reckless with the health and lives of those he is sworn to serve, choosing to promote a dangerous ideology over making the right decisions for the American people.”
Yesterday, Donald Trump signed a bill to extend funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), two days before World AIDS Day. Pence said that $100 million of that money would be directed at religious organizations.
PEPFAR is an American initiative started in 2003 that provides funding to fight HIV and AIDS in “resource-limited” countries, primarily in Africa. The program receives over $1 billion from the federal government and claims to have saved over 16 million lives to date.
“We’re grateful for the strong and bipartisan support in the Congress for this extraordinary humanitarian effort by the American people,” Pence said at the signing. “President Trump believes this reauthorization is a critical component of our administration’s commitment to combat AIDS.”
The Trump administration has not in the past supported funding PEPFAR, despite its bipartisan popularity in Congress. Trump asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to cut PEPFAR’s funding by almost $300 million last year.
Earlier this year, a White House budget proposal suggested cutting global HIV funding by $1 billion in 2019, with most of that money coming from PEPFAR.