The chairmen of AIDS Action, one of the nation's largest AIDS lobbying organizations, issued an open letter on December 29 that says the agency is withdrawing its support from a January 20 event held to celebrate President Bush's second inauguration. AIDS Action executive director Marsha Martin was part of a small committee sponsoring a $125-per-plate event to celebrate Bush's inauguration and to raise money for the AIDS Responsibility Project, a group that lobbies against the approval and use of generic anti-HIV medications in developing nations. Martin's name appeared prominently on an invitation to the inaugural celebration and ARP fund-raiser, which reads, "You are cordially invited to join in celebrating the Presidential Inauguration and Republican electoral success."
In an open letter to the AIDS community, Craig Thompson, chairman of the AIDS Action Council, and Charles Henry, chairman of the AIDS Action Foundation, wrote, "As part of our continued outreach efforts, AIDS Action's executive director, Marsha Martin, signed on to be a member of the host committee for a nonpartisan dinner on January 20. The dinner will honor four individuals, two of whom AIDS Action and the broader AIDS community work with closely: Dr. Joe O'Neill, deputy AIDS coordinator, U.S. State Department, and Carol Thompson, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. We regret that the e-mail invitation to the event did not maintain the spirit of nonpartisanship under which AIDS Action had agreed to participate. Therefore AIDS Action is withdrawing its participation from this event."
Charles and Henry further write, "In our work with the current administration and Congress, and in spite of our differences with them from time to time, AIDS Action is proud of its collaborative advocacy approach. We believe this approach best serves the needs of those communities and individuals impacted by HIV/AIDS at this time."
Many AIDS activists reacted with alarm to Martin's involvement with an event saluting Bush's reelection and Republican congressional victories, saying Martin and AIDS Action had allied themselves with a Republican president and Congress that have flat-funded Ryan White AIDS spending in the United States and have failed to respond to fiscal crises at the nation's AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.
In response to the news that Martin is involved in the inauguration fund-raiser for the AIDS Responsibility Project, AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer e-mailed several AIDS Action board members about his concerns. "Is AIDS Action turning into a second and equally as useless HRC [Human Rights Campaign], run by idiots who do not know the first thing about activism?" Kramer wrote. "Why are board members, some of whom I know and respect, so out to lunch in minding this once valuable store?"
Sean Strub, publisher of Poz magazine, sent a letter to AIDS leaders around the country about Martin's actions, saying, "Martin is responsible for protecting the interests of people with AIDS--and yet she celebrates those who have supported Bush's campaign to control and criminalize us, to deny us treatment and care, to guarantee the further spread of the disease by teaching young people that condoms don't work. We cannot let this stand."