HIV eradication is noble. But trust is earned, Mr. President.

One of my daughter’s favorite stories is The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Surely you know it. It’s the one where the little boy continually pranks his fellow villagers into believing that a wolf is attacking the sheep, until one day a wolf really does. Because the boy has overplayed his hand so many times prior, the villagers don’t believe him when he yells for help once the wolf truly arrives. He had fooled them more than once, and they weren't going to allow themselves to be shamed when things got real.

I love reading it to my kid because the moral lesson is so applicable to modern life. One can use it to teach about trust. And deceit. And, it turns out, sitting presidents.

For two years, the Trump Administration has acted one way on HIV and AIDS. Which way? Not good. Here are just some of the attacks the Trump Administration and his supportive party have waged against the global fight:

  • Kept White House Office of National AIDS policy without a policy director for two years.
  • Fired the entire Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) and left it vacant.
  • Proposed budgets that would have cut funds to HIV programs like the Ryan White Program, PEPFAR, and Global Fund.
  • Dismissed Peace Corp volunteers who tested positive for HIV.
  • Allowed health care providers a religious/moral exemption (led by anti-LGBTQ activist Roger Severino) could limit access to crucial preventive and life-saving drugs.
  • Weakened nondiscrimination protections at Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which could lead to housing discrimination against individuals living with HIV and AIDS.

Then, there's the time Vice President Pence fostered an HIV epidemic while serving as governor of Indiana by resisting any sort of needle exchange program in the state. 

The policies and practices have been so errant that the respected Fenway Institute described the administration as “notably absent from leadership on HIV/AIDS.” Experts who quit the president’s advisory council concluded that “Trump simply doesn’t care about HIV.” Bill Gates insists the president asked him twice to explain the difference between HIV and HPV.

But now, this president—this very same president!—and this administration—this very same administration!—have announced that they are going to step up and fight this global pandemic. In fact, the Trump Administration has boldly claimed that they are going to move us toward and end to HIV transmissions by the year 2030. The notion was briefly outlined in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, through a series of manufactured applause lines that the president delivered with much less force than those centered on his truer passions (read: xenophobic walls).

But whether his lines were designed for TV friendliness or a deeper purpose, who among us can possibly believe this president? He and his team have been saying and doing one thing (“Wolf!” “Wolf!”) for so long, why are we to believe them now? No matter how authentic their newfound heart, how are we to trust that the lies have now fallen away and are being replaces with good intentions? This administration has been a thoroughly dishonest witness since coming into office, and they don’t seem to have any plans to drop the deceit, anti-LGBTQ outreach, and assorted shenanigans that have defined this anti-LGBTQ administration. How can LGBTQ activists, who have been at the forefront on the HIV and AIDS fight since the beginning, trust the cries for help now, when this administration has been so thoroughly dismissive of our own welfare since Inauguration Day?

We cannot believe the President’s plan, no matter how noble, because we have not experienced any humanity from this administration. When he isn’t demonizing us, he’s deceiving us. When he isn’t rolling back support systems, he is implementing roadblocks. When he isn’t yelling about false threats, he is staying silent about actual ones. He hasn’t earned one tiny morsel of the LGBTQ community’s trust.

Some of the simplest concepts are the ones we learn in childhood. Treat others how you want to be treated. Your word is your bond, but actions speak even louder. Trust is earned. This president has failed as a trustworthy narrator on LGBTQ issues in general, and on HIV and AIDS in particular. Our hesitancy can be traced back to the things we learned in children’s books. Maybe not The Boy Who Cried Wolf exactly— but The Boy Who Cried Fox (News), perhaps?


Jeremy Hooper is a writer, activist, and father in New York, NY.