The White House on Thursday released a proclamation of World AIDS Day that excluded any mention of groups at particular risk of HIV infection, including gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people, or people of color.
The proclamation was issued one day before Dec. 1st, a date recognized internationally since 1988 as a day dedicated to raising aware of the AIDS pandemic that has claimed more than 35 million lives.
“We pray for all those living with HIV, and those who have lost loved ones to AIDS,” the proclamation, signed by President Donald Trump, notes, and “we commend the immense effort people have made to control and end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
In response to requests for clarification as to why the White House omitted at-risk groups from the proclamation, the press secretary’s office told The Daily Beast that “HIV/AIDS afflicts people of all types.”
The omission is like the White House’s decision to omit any mention of Jews in its statement commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, which drew heavy condemnation from across the political spectrum.
In administrations past, the World AIDS Day proclamation has traditionally included mentions of groups acutely affected by HIV/AIDS. In 2016, President Barack Obama mentioned numerous at-risk groups in its proclamation, pointing out that “gay and bisexual men, transgender people, youth, black and Latino Americans, people living in the Southern United States, and people who inject drugs are at a disproportionate risk.” Such individuals, that proclamation noted, “can face stigma and discrimination, creating barriers to prevention and treatment services.”
President George W. Bush’s White House, however, did not mention any at-risk groups.
In Trump’s proclamation, specific at-risk groups are only mentioned in the section outlining the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which highlights the administration’s support for “adolescent girls and young women” in sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite the proclamation urging Americans to give “compassion to those living with HIV,” the president has previously been accused of lacking compassion for people with HIV/AIDS. In June, nearly a quarter of the members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned in protest, declaring in a letter that Trump “simply does not care” about people living with AIDS.
LGBT rights groups deemed White House’s decision to omit groups at the highest risk of HIV infection—in 2014, gay and bisexual men accounted for more than 70% of new HIV infections, according to the CDC—part of a “disturbing pattern” of stances towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.
“The White House’s failure to mention the LGBTQ community in its World AIDS Day Proclamation reflects their ongoing efforts to avoid addressing the needs of LGBTQ people,” David Stacy, the director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, told The Daily Beast. “This is part of a disturbing pattern of actions they have taken from attempting to ban transgender service members to issuing a sweeping license to discriminate. Further, Trump's continued attacks on access to health care and critical HIV programs have already set back efforts to combat this epidemic.”
Before his election, Trump campaigned as an LGBTQ ally—most notably during his acceptance speech at the Republican Nation Convention, in which he pledged to do “everything in my power to protect LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” But since his inauguration, the Trump White House has appointed figures and enacted policies that alternately excluded LGBT Americans and targeted them for discrimination.
On January 31st—the same day that the White House released a statement vowing that Trump would be “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights”— the Education and Justice Departments issued a joint letter rescinding a 2016 Obama administration guidance on transgender students. That policy had declared that the federal government considered restrictions on transgender students’ access to appropriate restrooms and locker rooms to be in violation of Title IX’s 1972 ban on sex discrimination in public education.
The Trump White House has also repeatedly floated the possibility of signing into effect a “religious liberty” executive order that would allow any person or organization who claims religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage or trans identity to discriminate in almost every sphere.
President Trump also broke with tradition this summer, when he declined to issue a proclamation declaring the month of June as Pride Month. The White House did, however, designate June as Great Outdoors Month, National Ocean Month, and National Homeownership Month.