By Paul Kawata
On Monday the nation commemorated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as President of the United States.
The historic significance of this event cannot be overstated, and for those of us who have dedicated our lives to realizing Dr. King’s vision of not just racial equality, but social justice, Monday will mark the culmination of decades of struggle. But with each success, we are reminded that our nation’s march toward equality is never complete.
It is a constant evolution of hearts and minds, policy and tradition. Thanks to the work of Dr. King and so many others, our nation’s made incredible progress, but substantial work remains.
The fight against HIV/AIDS has always been about more than the search for medicine or a cure. It has been a battle for human dignity. To demonstrate that each life, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, nation of origin, or religion, has inherent value.
From the beginning, this epidemic has taken the largest toll on our most marginalized communities. From gay men and transgender women, to injection drug users and people of color, those who are most often shut out of our nation’s halls of affluence and power are also the most vulnerable to a whole host of health challenges, including HIV.
Over the last four years, we’ve made huge strides in leveling the playing field. With the release of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, our nation is rightly directing much needed resources to addressing persistent and devastating health disparities. But expanding access to health coverage alone is not enough. On its own, an insurance card is little more than a piece of paper. We must ensure that those communities that have historically been locked out of the health care system have the supportive services necessary to navigate that system
In that vein, NMAC is releasing its list of legislative and administrative priorities for 2013. While we will continue to monitor implementation of the ACA, especially as states develop their essential health benefits packages; our focus now must be to ensure that those communities that have historically suffered the greatest health disparities are able to get the most out of these reforms.
This means continued funding for traditional wrap-around/health completion services under Ryan White, but it also means tackling immigration reform and repealing HIV-specific criminal statutes. It means ensuring that every American has access to employment security, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. And it means ensuring that every young person has access to confidential, evidence-based and culturally appropriate sexual health education.
Dr. King once said that “human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” As our nation celebrates the legacy of Dr. King and the second inauguration of President Obama, NMAC stands ready to fight for the vision of equality and justice that both of these men embody. I hope you’ll join us.
Paul Kawata is the Executive Director of the National Minority AIDS Council.