By Daniel Reynolds
Originally published on Advocate.com May 07 2014 8:45 PM ET
Lambda Legal has announced that it will award its highest honor to Rep. Henry Waxman.
The country’s largest legal organization, which works to further political equality for LGBT people, will present its Liberty Award to Waxman, who has represented California’s 33rd Congressional District for almost 40 years.
The distinction recognizes the 74-year-old politician’s decades-long commitment to helping those who live with HIV and AIDS, including his role as lead author of the Ryan White CARE and Affordable Care Acts.
“It is a great honor to receive Lambda Legal’s Liberty Award,” said Waxman, who recently announced his retirement. “I have worked on HIV and AIDS issues for decades, trying to increase the urgency of the federal response while calming the public hysteria. It is encouraging to see how far we have come.”
“In the last 30 years, we have created and improved research, prevention, and treatment programs and prevented countless deaths,” he continued. “I look forward to continuing to work together with Lambda and others in the LGBT community to accomplish much more in the future.”
In the past, The Advocate has also recognized Waxman's work by giving him a place in its Hall of Fame, noting that he called a first-of-its-kind hearing in April 1982 to investigate a disease that was killing primarily gay men. The hearing of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, of which he was chairman, focused on Kaposi's sarcoma, a skin disease whose purple lesions were a telltale sign of AIDS before drugs existed to treat the illness.
"There is no doubt in my mind," Waxman said at the time, "that if the same disease had appeared among Americans of Norwegian descent, or among tennis players, rather than among gay males, the responses of the government and the medical community would have been different."
He didn’t stop his advocacy in 1982 and hasn’t stopped since. “What we don’t need is another study. What we need is leadership,” Waxman said in 1988 of President Reagan’s inaction on AIDS. “Once again, the president is hiding.”
Jon Davidson, the director of Lambda Legal, sees Waxman’s work as a shining example that reflects his organization’s own mission.
“There is no one in government who has spoken out on behalf of people living with HIV as early, as forcefully, as consistently, and with such a record of accomplishment as Congressman Waxman,” Davidson said. “Through his work, Congressman Waxman has saved countless lives and brought health care and dignity to people with HIV across the nation. We all owe him a huge debt, and we are delighted to be able to honor him for his years of dedication to our community.”
Lambda Legal has a history of advancing the rights of HIV-positive people. In 1983 the nonprofit won People v. West 12 Tenants Corp., which argued that those living with HIV or AIDS are protected from discrimination by disability laws. The group continues its work in present day through initiatives such as its HIV Project, which works to assure that those who live with the virus receive fair treatment from employers and health care providers.
In addition to Waxman, Lambda Legal will honor transgender activist Bamby Salcedo, actor Dan Bucatinsky, and the creators and executive producer of ABC Family’s The Fosters. The accolades will be presented at its West Coast Liberty Awards, set to take place June 13 at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire.