No Tax Dollars for Bigots

No Tax Dollars for Bigots

by Richard J. Rosendall

Testimony before the Committee on Human Services,
Council of the District of Columbia, concerning
operation and management of the Agency for HIV/AIDS [1]

Monday, November 8, 1993

Madam Chair, Members of the Council, fellow citizens:

My name is Richard Rosendall. I am a native Washingtonian and a member of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington.

I am here today to decry the balkanization of our community and the poison of racial separatism. I am here to speak out against bureaucratic roadblocks and those whose hatemongering and opportunism threaten the public health of our city.

The current controversy over the Agency for HIV/AIDS dates back five months to the suspension and subsequent firing of its director, Caitlin Ryan, on charges that she illegally steered a contract away from the Abundant Life Clinic [2]. While the Department of Human Services was conducting its investigation of the matter, I decided to do some investigating of my own.

The Sankofa Community Coalition, led by the Abundant Life Clinic and URBAN, Inc. [3], now seeks a $2 million city contract held in the past by Whitman-Walker Clinic. Sankofa's organizers claim their purpose is to improve AIDS services to African Americans and other minorities, which they claim have been denied funds -- this despite the fact that Whitman-Walker, to quote its executive director, is "a multicultural, multiracial health center with the most diverse network of services for people with HIV/AIDS in the nation." [4] Whitman-Walker has changed as the city's AIDS demographics changed, so that today its client base closely matches the AIDS statistics in this city. Compare this with the record of the Sankofa Coalition's organizers.

URBAN, which has accused others of racism in its effort to become a broker for black health care funds, has sought to get GLAA representative Mindy Daniels removed from the Regional HIV Health Services Planning Council because she is a Jew [5]. URBAN's efforts at intimidation, while they were not successful, did not show much respect for the D.C. Human Rights Law.

Since the Abundant Life Clinic is to be Sankofa's primary facility, I bought some audio and video tapes by the Clinic's director, Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, who is also Minister of Health for the Nation of Islam. The tapes were quite revealing.

In a speech recorded at Howard University last February [6], Dr. Muhammad claimed that HIV was created in a U.S. biological warfare laboratory for the purpose of destroying Africa's black population. He said that the virus was spread by the World Health Organization through a contaminated Smallpox vaccine.

Dr. Muhammad has made a crusade of advocating AIDS treatments based on alpha interferon. These treatments, under the trade names Kemron and Immunex, have been found ineffective by AIDS experts from Germany to Uganda. But Dr. Muhammad states that Kemron was dismissed by the health care establishment precisely because it might be effective in saving black people's lives, and because the "white devils" would never take seriously anything discovered by an African doctor [7].

How on earth can the District of Columbia consider giving one dollar to a health care facility run by a man who makes a career out of preaching bizarre, hate-filled theories about genocidal conspiracies, and who profiteers from the sale of ineffective medicine to people who are sick and frightened? [8]

Dr. Muhammad and his agents at URBAN have already claimed a high-profile victim in Caitlin Ryan. The irony is that under Ryan's leadership, minority organizations received a 93% increase in Ryan White funds and a 36% increase in appropriated funds [9]. Ryan increased the number of public HIV counselling and testing sites from 4 to 24, and the number of HIV care sites east of the Anacostia River from 1 to 8. The school condom program decreased syphilis and gonorrhea in District teens by 29%. For the first time this year, Ryan identified $200,000 in emergency contract funds to build minority infrastructure, but because she was removed, those funds were never released [10]. Ryan did all of this with little help from many of the city's religious leaders, who, instead of ministering to their dying children, have remained immobile with AIDS denial and homophobia year after year [11].

As her reward for leading the charge on the Mayor's AIDS policy, Caitlin Ryan has been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency at the expense of the public health. Her reputation and career have been all but destroyed by people who have shown far greater support for the cause of racial polarization than for solving the AIDS crisis, and who have shown a brazen disregard for the truth in this case [12]. In the meantime, AIDS-related contracts continue to go unawarded, and key staff positions remain unfilled. The way the Ryan case has been handled ensures that no competent person would take her job, as was demonstrated when Frank Oldham, Director of the New York City Office of Gay and Lesbian Health, withdrew his name from consideration [13]. Oldham called conditions at AHA "one of the most difficult situations anyone could walk into. You have these horrible conflicts dividing people while more people are getting infected." [14] In the words of local AIDS activist Hank Carde, "We've created a meat grinder political system that grinds good people up." On top of this, a Reduction-in-Force is now causing experienced AIDS workers at AHA to be bumped out of their jobs by employees with greater seniority from elsewhere in DHS [15].

The Mayor's office continues to string us along with excuses for the delay and drift. Even public health commissioner Dr. Mohammad Akhter was quoted in the November 5 Washington Post expressing frustration over bureaucratic delay [16]. Meanwhile, people are dying and others are becoming infected.

We have had enough excuses. It is time to reform our personnel and procurement regulations to end this paralysis and prevent its recurrence. The RIF procedures are bad enough as a way to reduce staffing levels anywhere; apply them to a front-line agency confronting a health crisis, and you invite disaster. It is past time to replace the RIF procedures with real personnel reform. As a member in good standing of AFGE Local 12 at the U.S. Department of Labor, I pledge my support.

The talk in Federal agencies these days is about re-inventing government. I can think of no better candidate for re-invention than procurement regulations. To hamstring managers in the name of preventing waste, fraud, and abuse is like killing oneself to avoid the flu. And if it is impermissible for a contract panel to discuss the relevant record of a potential contractor before making an award, then it is time to change the rules governing contract panels. The government should have the right to be as informed a customer as any private citizen -- in fact, it has the responsibility not to waste our taxes.

If we are to have any hope of successfully fighting this epidemic, then we must work as a well-coordinated team with our eyes open -- and we must be governed by the best of medical science, not by political paranoia and demagoguery. Scoundrels and charlatans must not be permitted to extort public tax dollars simply by waving the red flag of racism [17]. To allow that would dishonor all who have labored for the cause of civil rights.

The doctrine of Separate but Equal was repudiated by the Supreme Court thirty-nine years ago. Now we have the disturbing spectacle of a renewed appeal to separatism in the form of black nationalism, by people who would rather dismantle our society and replace it with a fundamentalist theocracy than challenge America to live out the true meaning of its creed. Surely our community does not wish to travel down such a bloody and delusory path [18].

Securing liberty and justice for all requires conviction and leadership -- not pandering to the unresolved anger of people who refuse to hold themselves to the same standards that they demand of others. The static politics of victimhood [19] is a crippling plague that undermines our livelihoods, our safety, and our character as a people. Nothing is to be gained by ranking our oppressions, by fragmenting our community into a collection of warring interest groups. It is time for us to repudiate bigotry in all its colors. It is time for us to see self-government not as an entitlement but as a responsibility, and to stop the excuses and the scapegoating. It is time for us to find the courage to speak the truth to each other. And it is time to stop playing cynical politics with the public health.

1. See also Rick Rosendall, "Alliances that can 'sabotage' the cause," The Washington Blade (TWB), September 10, 1993, p. 40.

2. Amy Goldstein, "District Replaces AIDS Chief," The Washington Post (TWP), Saturday, July 10, 1993, p. B1.
___, "Where AIDS And Money Cross Paths," TWP, Sunday, July 11, 1993, p. A1.
___, "D.C. Fires 2 Officials in Mishandling of AIDS Contract," TWP, Friday, July 16, 1993, p. B5.
Aras van Hertum, "No end seen in the battle over D.C.'s AIDS funds," The Washington Blade (TWB), July 9, 1993, p. 1.
Lou Chibbaro Jr., "Accusations fly after Ryan firing," TWB, July 16, 1993, p. 1.

3. United Response to Black America's Needs. URBAN staff conducted a workshop series on September 16, 1993, titled "Formula For Funding," subtitled "AIDS in Communities of Color: No dollars, No treatment -- Combating the AIDS Funding Disparity," sponsored by U.S. Rep. Carrie P. Meek, Florida (D). Printed workshop program includes bios of URBAN officials.

4. Jim Graham, "AIDS: It's Not About 'Us vs. Them'" [Taking Exception column], The Washington Post (TWP), Thursday, July 15, 1993, p. A27.

5. Merrie M. Eisenstadt, "Who Gets AIDS Funding?" subtitled "Nation of Islam affiliate pressures Jewish woman," Washington Jewish Week, July 22, 1993, page 3.

6. Minister Abdul Alim Muhammad, MD, "War On AIDS Campaign," Tape Connection audiotape #113, recorded February 25, 1993. Purchased from Tape Connection, 2849 Georgia Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001. See also Minister Abdul Alim Muhammad, MD, "AIDS, Africa and the Black Man," Tape Connection videotape, recorded June 23, 1993, at Howard University Blackburn Center. Purchased from Tape Connection. Includes reference to Caitlin Ryan case, as well as remarks by Kevin X Tolver of URBAN, Inc.

7. Dr. Davey Koech of the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi.

8. See Byron York and Joe Johns, "Another AIDS Scam," The American Spectator, August 1993, p. 49.

9. It should be kept in mind that District contracts are only available for bid every 3 years.

10. Figures obtained from former AHA Administrator Caitlin Ryan.

11. Lou Chibbaro Jr., "Tensions high as ministers lambast OAA," TWB, March 20, 1992.

12. See Courtland Milloy, "War on AIDS Is Victim of Friendly Fire," The Washington Post (TWP), Wednesday, July 7, 1993, p. D1. See also "Corrections," TWP, Thursday, July 15, 1993, p. A3; Courtland Milloy, "This Is How AIDS Tears Us Apart," TWP, Sunday, July 18, 1993, p. B1; Joann Byrd [TWP Ombudsman], "The Flawed Column," TWP, Sunday, July 25, 1993, p. C6; and Joann Byrd, "The Flawed Column (Part II)," TWP, Sunday, August 1, 1993, p. C6.

13. Some weeks after this testimony was presented, Mr. Oldham was persuaded to reconsider his decision, and he accepted the top post at AHA. His own words remain apt.

14. Amy Goldstein, "A Top Candidate to Head D.C. AIDS Agency Says No," TWP, Thursday, October 14, 1993, p. B3.

15. Lou Chibbaro Jr., "Six AHA staffers to lose their jobs," TWB, November 5, 1993, p. 5.

16. Cindy Loose, "D.C. Could Face TB Epidemic, Panel Warns," TWP, Friday, November 5, 1993, p. B3.

17. See Richard Cohen, "Federal Money for Racists," TWP, Thursday, July 29, 1993, p. A25.

18. See Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington, Harper Collins, 1986, p. 297: "I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who are working through the channels of nonviolent direct action and refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes, out of frustration and despair, will seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies, a development that will lead inevitably to a frightening racial nightmare."

19. "Race, Crime, and the Mayoralty," The New Yorker, November 1, 1993, pp. 6-8.

Copyright 1993 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.