Marsha Martin, executive director of AIDS Action, one of the nation's largest AIDS lobbying groups, is part of a small committee sponsoring an inaugural celebration for President Bush's reelection that will serve as a benefit for the AIDS Responsibility Project, a group that lobbies against the approval and use of generic anti-HIV medications in developing nations, political journalist and blogger Doug Ireland reports on his Web site Direland. The AIDS Responsibility Project is a vocal opponent of generic anti-HIV medications. Members of the Health GAP Coalition report that during the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, the AIDS Responsibility Project took out a full-page ad in the Bangkok Post that opposed using generic anti-HIV drugs and included inaccurate claims that they are ineffective.
Martin's name appears prominently on an invitation to the inauguration event as part of the host committee for the celebration and fund-raiser, titled "Salute a Second Term: Celebration Freedom, Honoring Service: An Inaugural Dinner Invitation." The black-tie event costs $125 per person or $5,000 for corporate sponsorships. Money raised at the event goes to the AIDS Responsibility Project. The invitation to the event reads, "You are cordially invited to join in celebrating the Presidential Inauguration and Republican electoral success."
AIDS Action, of which Martin serves as executive director, calls itself the "national voice" for more than 3,200 AIDS service organizations around the country. Some activists say that with Martin calling for a celebration of Bush's reelection, AIDS Action is openly promoting positions by the Bush administration that hurt HIV-positive people in the United States and worldwide and that undermine HIV prevention outreach with its emphasis on abstinence-only education regarding sex and AIDS. Activists also say that Martin and consequently AIDS Action are now firmly allied 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. The ADAP shortfall in many states has left hundreds of low-income, HIV-positive people unable to get lifesaving antiretroviral medications.
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. "As one of the original founders of AIDS Action Council with the late Paul Popham, I raise these piercing questions: Who is this Marsha Martin, and why is she doing and saying these really dumb things?" he wrote. "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? 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, has sent a letter to AIDS leaders around the country about Martin's actions, according to Direland. "Why don't we just dissolve AIDS Action, spend the money on cyanide pills, and speed the whole thing up?" Strub wrote. "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. We must demand that AIDS Action board members, and the executive directors of the agencies that fund AIDS Action, fire Marsha Martin and find an executive director whose celebratory priorities are more appropriate to a constituency struggling to survive, to keep from becoming totally invisible, totally ignored, totally discarded."