Southern Florida AIDS Advocates Forming ‘Vocal’ Activist Groups to Battle Complacency, Budget Cuts
AIDS advocates in southern Florida are assembling to form more "visible" and "vocal" activist groups, signifying that the "loud, in-your-face AIDS activists of old are reawakening from years of dormancy" to fight budget cuts and "the apathy of established AIDS advocates and the public" in combating the epidemic, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. In Broward County, a local chapter of ACT UP was recently revived, while some in Palm Beach County are trying to rekindle support for a local branch of the National Association of People With AIDS. The Broward County chapter of ACT UP plans to protest a 25% cut to Project AIDS Care, a statewide program that supplies in-home care and other services to 6,500 of Florida's "sickest" AIDS patients. The $23 million program aims to keep the patients living at home and out of costly nursing homes and hospices. The Florida Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush (R) recently cut $5 million from the program, and ACT UP/Broward County organizer Felix deBruin said his group will lobby legislators to restore the funding. The group plans to stage protest rallies and other public events to "mobilize the public."
Rekindling the Flame
Activist groups used to be present in all three South Florida counties, but none of the organizations lasted past the mid-1990s. In the 1990s, the "more radical" AIDS groups such as ACT UP were "quieted" by the "friendlier policies of [former President Clinton], by the aging and deaths of old-school activists and by the advent" of antiretroviral drugs, the Sun-Sentinel reports. Although AIDS support groups continued to thrive, the responsibility for advocacy was passed on to not-for-profit organizations and for-profit firms that run publicly funded programs. However, these groups "admit" that they "cannot freely criticize the government," and activists have been seeking "an independent voice for patients," the Sun-Sentinel reports. Some Florida AIDS advocates are especially concerned about AIDS grants being diverted away from gay organizations and into minority communities, the Sun-Sentinel reports. DeBruin added that many people, including AIDS advocates, have become "complacent" about the epidemic. "People have to start realizing the AIDS crisis is not over," deBruin said, adding, "I don't think you get something done by being extreme. But you have to be loud, you have to be vocal" (LaMendola, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/20).