Tuesday, December 15, 2015

One Year Late: Closing the Coverage Gap

By Lee Storrow, Executive Director, NC AIDS Action Network

Tuesday, December 15, 2015, is the final day to apply for health insurance on the exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to guarantee coverage in 2016. 

Approximately 460,000 residents of North Carolina are already enrolled in ACA plans. The ACA was a landmark achievement to increase access to health care for all residents of our country, and will have a profound impact on our ability to fight HIV/AIDS.

In addition to creating competitive health insurance marketplaces, broadening Medicaid eligibility is an important component of the ACA's goal of increasing access to healthcare. Unfortunately, to date, our state's political leaders have failed to move on closing the coverage gap in North Carolina. Expanding Medicaid would provide health insurance to over 500,000 North Carolinians, including thousands of people living with HIV.

Expanding Medicaid wouldn't just improve the health of those living in our state, but it would also improve North Carolina's economic wellbeing. A year ago, the Cone Health Foundation and Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust released a report detailing the potential benefits of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. The one-year anniversary of these findings provides an opportunity to look back on what this study shows we've missed out on in North Carolina in the meantime.

Over the course of this year, our state lost access to $3.3 billion in federal funding. Not only that, but more than 29,000 fewer jobs were created this year because of the state's failure to expand Medicaid. While many of these jobs would have been created in the health care industry, according to the study, "the economic benefits ripple out when health care providers purchase additional goods and services and as health care workers use new income to pay their mortgages, buy groceries, pay taxes and so on," leading to job creation in construction, retail and wholesale sectors, and other industries.

If we are serious about job creation and a healthier state, it's long past time for North Carolina to expand Medicaid.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Giving Back to North Carolina’s HIV Fight

By Jeffery Williams-Knight 

Many of us are drawn to the possibility of being a part of a movement that truly gives back and makes positive change in our communities, our state and beyond.

As a Charlottean, the supervisor of the Mecklenburg County Health Department’s HIV/STD Community Testing and Outreach Program, and as a board chair of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network, I’ve had the unique opportunity to be involved in public education, HIV/STI testing, community-building and HIV/AIDS policy advocacy. As a result of this type of work in my city and across my state, HIV/AIDS-related mortality rates are on the decline, attempts to weaken sex education in the state have thus far failed, and new drug treatments are limiting the impact of HIV.

Nevertheless, our fight is far from over. 

Mecklenburg County remains the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS fight in North Carolina, with the highest number of reported cases in the state. And our hard-fought campaigns continue to help maintain and expand our state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program, close coverage gaps and expand Medicaid, increase access to comprehensive sex education and life-saving drugs like 
pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and fight the HIV stigma we saw so clearly in the days and weeks following Charlie Sheen’s disclosure of his HIV status.

Fortunately, a happy coincidence means help is on the way. 

In this season of giving thanks, I invite you to join me in becoming a part of this movement. I encourage you to be grateful for the HIV/AIDS advocacy that touches so many in this city, this county, this state and across the South. And I ask that you lift up this activism by investing today in the work that could end the blight of HIV/AIDS in our lifetimes.

So, as we commemorate World AIDS Day (Dec. 1) this week—a time to unite behind a global movement to end HIV/AIDS—it’s important to acknowledge that HIV advocacy has never been more important here at home.

Like World AIDS Day, #GivingTuesday falls on December 1st, following shopping holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday to unite a global community to look beyond oneself and give back. That’s why this week I’ll be giving back to our state and local HIV advocacy organizations with my commitment, my volunteerism and my wallet. After all, I’ve seen with my own eyes how these often unsung heroes can make a true difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS in my home city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and across North Carolina every single day.  All with a little support from their communities.

We’re told time and time again, “Charlotte’s Got A Lot.”  In addition to our many wonderful people and places, I believe this slogan also references our inexhaustible kindness, our goodwill, and our generosity. 

Now’s the perfect time to show it.

Jeffery Williams-Knight is a board chair of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network where you can donate today at ncaan.org.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


by Lee Storrow I'm a big fan of trashy tv shows. There’s nothing better on a Thursday night than to sit back and escape your troubles by delving in the drama of #TGIT. Of the Thursday night lineup on ABC informally known as Shondaland (named for producer Shonda Rhimes), How to Get Away with Murder is my clear favorite. How to Get Away With Murder succeeds as a show because of its outlandish plot, compelling characters, and because it depicts the diversity of our daily lives. Viola Davis’ portrayal of Annaliese Keating won her the Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series this year, making her the first African American to win that award. A primary reasons I love the show is because of it’s portrayal of Connor and Oliver, a mixed-status gay couple. Oliver is the perfect boyfriend. Sweet and geeky, Oliver is the perfect foil to bad boy Connor. They had a rocky start to their relationship in Season One, but just as they were hitting their stride as a couple, Connor found out he is HIV positive.

Connor (Jack Falahee, left) and Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) face new struggles and triumphs in "How to Get Away With Murder" Season 2, including Connor's HIV status and use of PrEP.
While Oliver moped around for the season’s first few episodes after finding out the news, Connor didn’t let that be a barrier to continuing his relationship with the man he loved. He went on PrEP, and, shortly after, the couple moved in together. Connor and Oliver’s relationship should be celebrated for a positive and realistic portrayal of young gay couple finding their way in the modern world. Connor’s decision to go on PrEP and their discussions about it are the frankest I’ve seen on network TV in 2015. At the same time, the couple hasn’t been exclusively defined by Oliver’s HIV status. Recently Oliver has gotten more involved with work at the Keating Law Firm, a the couple experience friction trying to find work-life balance. And while the sex-lives of gay couples are often glossed over in pop culture--a kiss followed by a fade to black--that’s far from the case on How to Get Away With Murder for Connor and Oliver. At the end of last week’s episode, we saw several couples engaged in varying degrees of intimacy, the encounters all intercut with each other. In what might have been the hottest vignette of the four, Connor and Oliver were there in the middle--a picture of destigmatization of sexuality and HIV-status. I’ll be tuning in tonight to watch what happens next in the chronicles of Connor and Oliver on the mid-season winter finale. Our fight to combat stigma and make sure those living with HIV is often a political one that finds us in the halls of government buildings. But it’s a fight that we must fight in other venues as well, including those of pop culture of Hollywood. Visibility matters, and I hope to see more couples like Connor and Oliver on TV in the years to come. They aren’t perfect (who among us is) but their drama, messiness, and commitment challenges stigma and shows us a path forward for more representation in pop culture.

Lee Storrow is Executive Director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sheen, Stigma and the South

There will continue to be much commentary over Charlie Sheen’s interview with The Today Show’s Matt Laurer in which Sheen disclosed that he is HIV positive. Others will likely expand upon problematic elements of the interview. 

Charlie Sheen (r.) speaks to The Today Show's Matt Laurer on Nov. 17. 
I was drawn to a positive moment where Lauer named stigma as a barrier toward care for those living with HIV. 

“And when you say shame in that, the stigma that is attached to this diagnosis is one of the worst parts about it. People don't take action, they don't get help because of that stigma.”

You can watch this moment, and Sheen’s response in the first segment of the interview shortly after the seven-minute mark.

Stigma is a very real barrier to accessing medication and care for many HIV-positive North Carolinians. The stigma of both a HIV diagnosis and association with the gay community prevents people from not only getting tested, but also sharing their diagnosis with family and friends. In turn, this thwarts building the support system necessary to best manage the disease and its consequences.

This stigma has an even greater impact in the American South. Recent research from Duke University Law School shows that poverty rates, lack of education, and social stigma in the south have had the compounding effect of increasing death rates of those diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.

Our community know what works to end this epidemic. Comprehensive sex education in public schools, closing the coverage gap to make sure all North Carolinians have access to medical care and continuing to fully fund programs like the AIDS Drug Assistance Program can put our state on a positive path to end transmission of HIV in our lifetime.

In the meantime, we thank Charlie Sheen for sharing his story, as well as Matt Lauer for recognizing the impact stigma had in preventing Sheen and so many others from coming forward sooner.

Lee Storrow is Executive Director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network.

NC AIDS Action Network will host a timely conversation on the impact of HIV/AIDS stigma in Durham this Thursday, Nov. 19. Email quinton@ncaan.org to RSVP and for more details.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"I Dare Say It"

Triad Health Project's Director of Prevention Services Kevin Varner explains the positive byproducts of HIV status stemming from the support, community, and strength of living with the virus, both inside and out. 

"Coming together and supporting one another...as people with HIV and allies of people with HIV so that we begin how to teach a sense of self-worth...and, I dare say it, how to see HIV as an unexpected gift...that you never wanted, never thought would happen to you...and yet to turn HIV against itself, we must acknowledge its presence, listen to what HIV has to tell us about the importance of staying connected...and the importance of healing beyond the medicine we take every day." 

Come together with us during the 2015 North Carolina HIV/AIDS Advocacy Conference

Monday, September 21, 2015

A 15 Year-Old Lesson on What One Person Can Do

On October 17, 2015, the Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina, Inc., in collaboration with Crape Myrtle Festival, the LGBT Center of Raleigh and the North Carolina AIDS Action Network (NCAAN) will host the 2015 AIDS Walk and 5k Run in Raleigh's Dix Park. This annual fundraising event that raises thousands of dollars to care for people living with HIV/AIDS. To learn more, visit the official registration site

In 1999, Dr. Trudier Harris didn't just raise over $17,000 for what was then called AIDSWALK, an annual fundraising event to support those living with HIV/AIDS in North


Dr. Harris also penned a "how-to" guide to how she did it -- and in doing so captured what one person can do for worthy cause. 

An excerpt: 

"I wrote to family and friends. I placed flyers in the boxes of my colleagues. I put up posters. I left notes at my neighbors' doors. I made phone calls. I made speeches at church. And I took advantage of less conspicuous opportunities. For example, when I went into my dentist's office, I asked if he would contribute. He did so." 

What's most important to remember about Dr. Harris' highly-successful, one-woman fundraising campaign from 15 years ago, is that she was able to raise thousands before the age of vast email and social media networks. And, in doing so, laid the groundwork for today's activists to match and exceed her efforts -- all by leveraging the power of conversations, both on- and offline. 

So what are you waiting for?

Monday, June 29, 2015

One gay couple divorced when we won marriage equality. The reason keep you fighting.

Thursday’s Supreme Court decision allowed millions of US citizens to stay insured, strengthening the fight against the HIV epidemic. Friday’s Supreme Court decision for marriage equality gave many of us a jubilant reason to celebrate.

I woke up Saturday morning, still on a high from the gay marriage decision the day before, to images of Brittany “Bree” Newsome climbing the flagpole in Columbia, South Carolina that displayed the Confederate flag on the grounds of the state capitol. This act of civil disobedience was brave, and a stark image of the forces that continue to oppress black lives in our country.

Our movement still has a lot to do to create a world where all citizens, regardless of race, sexuality, or status, can live with equality and dignity.

On Sunday, I attended a social group for HIV+ men hosted by one of our nonprofit partners. Members of the group shared their reaction to the gay marriage court case. 

While the response was positive and spirited, one couple shared a more nuanced view of gay marriage legalization. Both men were HIV+, and were married out of state several years ago. When gay marriage was legalized in North Carolina in October last year, they at first celebrated, but quickly realized the decision had unintended consequences for them. Both men were enrolled in the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, and as a married couple, their combined income level would make them ineligible for ADAP coverage.

Shortly after marriage equality became legal in North Carolina, the couple legally divorced so they could maintain access to their HIV medication.

I’ve heard many personal stories about the challenges members of our community have faced since joining the team at the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. Theirs is one that will stay with me.

This couple’s story is a stark a reminder that marriage equality and the affirmation of the Affordable Care Act are not enough. We must continue to support our partners in the fight for social justice for all citizens. We must continue to work to make sure ALL citizens have access to comprehensive health insurance, regardless of status or income.

Let’s celebrate our victories from last week. Let’s let them serve as fuel for the fights ahead.

Lee Storrow is Executive Director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network.