The United States Congress, for the first time ever, officially recognized Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) and the Prevention Access Campaign (PAC) for their efforts to spread the message of U=U via a certificate of congressional recognition authored by Texas congressmember Sheila Jackson Lee (D). The congressional document was presented during the Saturday, Sept. 7 plenary at the United States Conference on AIDS (USCA) in Washington, DC.
U=U is the Prevention Access Campaign's movement to inform everyone all over the world about the groundbreaking fact that, if a person who is living with HIV is on effective antiretroviral medication with a viral load that is undetectable, then that person presents a zero chance of passing on the virus sexually to another person. "Undetectable" means that doctors cannot detect the presence of HIV in one's blood; generally below 20 copies per milliliter of blood.
The move took everyone by surprise, especially Prevention Access Campaign and U=U founder Bruce Richman. Deondre Bernard Moore, a community mobilizer for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, was onstage with Bruce Richman while making their closing remarks when, suddenly, Moore reached underneath his chair and surprised everyone by presenting the certificate of congressional recognition to Richman, who received the document on behalf of everyone involved with the Prevention Access Campaign and U=U.
"I first got the idea after realizing that no other government official (on the federal level, at least) had publicly recognized the U=U movement and what it meant for us," said Moore. "So I reached out to my dear friend, Remmington Belford, who is an aide at Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee's office in DC. I told him about what the movement and science behind U=U means to me and the other 1.2 million Americans living with HIV, and I asked him to share the info with the congresswoman."
Moore said that Belford called back to say Rep. Jackson Lee was going to officially recognize the movement and would like to give Moore an official certificate of congressional recognition.
TheBody reached out to Rep. Jackson Lee for comment. "Too many in the LGBTQ community face a vicious cycle of vitriol as a result of their identity," she said. "This is why it is important to relegate stigma outside of society's acceptable course of conduct. Which is also why I was proud to pen the congressional resolution that commemorates this important campaign. I have been a dedicated advocate on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS and will continue to do so for as long as I have a voice in our public discourse."
Undoubtedly, the recognition from Congress will be an important tool to add legitimacy to the U=U movement. The certificate of congressional recognition isn't light on language, either. The document is packed with strong verbiage, such as the following:
"Whereas, U=U is a growing global community of HIV advocates, activists, researchers, and more than 900 Community Partners from nearly 100 countries uniting to disseminate the revolutionary but largely unknown fact that people living with HIV who are undetectable (under 40 copies/ml) do not sexually transmit HIV; and Whereas, The U=U message is an unprecedented opportunity to transform the lives of millions of people with and affected by HIV and to radically transform the field of HIV prevention by reducing the shame and fear of sexual transmission and increasing possibilities for conceiving children without alternative means of insemination…."
The presentation of the certificate was emotional for all. Many wept, as many more rushed the stage to record this moment on their phones.
"I was deeply moved, as you could probably see by my tears … and surprised," said Richman. "I felt so grateful. I'm so happy the community that got us to this place is receiving such meaningful recognition in the U.S. This includes those who have been working so hard in the U=U movement and those who have been fighting for the health and human rights of people living with HIV since the beginning of the epidemic. I'm so proud of what we did together! I'm in a state of awe and gratitude."
"Celebrating and acknowledging the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) campaign is important and a moment that requires recognition," said Jackson Lee. "Championing those who are undetectable and untransmittable is the just and moral thing to do because, collectively, the act deprives those who desire to stigmatize the disease."
TheBody asked Moore how difficult it was to keep this a secret from Richman. Moore said, "Once I got [the certificate] on the Wednesday of the week USCA began, it was very difficult to keep quiet about it," he recalled. "I kept it in my hotel room, under my bed. Then the day of the U=U celebration, I snuck in a few minutes before everyone else arrived and put it underneath my chair on stage, where no one else would notice or see it. And right before it was time to get off stage, I decided to go ahead and publicly present it."
We're so glad you did, Deondre.