"Change doesn't come easy; you can’t live in the South unless you appreciate a good fight!"
Last week, Tell Them sat in with the new Advocacy Coordinator for the SC HIV Task Force, Wayne Borders, to discuss his background in advocacy work and his plans for the legislative session. For more information about the Task Force, or any other of Mr. Border's affiliated organizations, he can be reached at 803.741.4063 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. How did your interest in advocacy work begin?
I was in the process of moving back to South Carolina when I really started to get involved in a local community radio station in Houston called KPFT. It was the only Pacifica station to be bombed off the air by the Ku Klux Klan, twice. And so I started donating and going to visit the station and talking to the people there, and I decided I needed to actually do something. The radio station was great at disseminating a social history education but I wanted to start to provide that real activism component.
So then it inspired me to begin work with the Houston chapter of Food Not Bombs. So when I came to Columbia, that was the first organization that I decided to volunteer with. Then once I was here I extended my advocacy work and started to move into some activity with the Progressive Network, Columbia Norml, and now the task force. I'm one of the go-tos for the Progressive Network and am the Executive Director of Columbia Norml.
2. Were your friends and family supportive of your new role on the HIV task force? What kind of reactions did you receive?
Everybody has been really supportive of my new position, especially my mom. She has always been someone who has been concerned about my health, since I am gay and this is something that is a threat to me. At one point she was even working at the Red Cross, so between her work with them and her concern for me, she's happy I'm doing the things that I do. Everyone is proud to see that I'm doing something where I can be of real service to my community.
3. What are some of your plans for the task force for this upcoming year? How does your management style allow you to be effective during plan implementation?
The big push for the task force in the coming year is in addressing pharmaceutical access for HIV/AIDS patients. My advocacy work is coalition building. I believe in getting buy-in from different stake holders so that it's not just one interest showing up, and that it's a group of people. I've been reaching out to pharmaceutical companies and local groups that deal with chronic medical issues so that we can start to build a powerful force.
And to be more specific, we are dealing with a bill that has been introduced since 2007 and it hasn't gotten much traction. It’s called the Pharmacy Patient Protection Act. It deals with establishing regulations for the pharmacy industry and procedures for oversight. There are a lot of issues where patients can’t get medicines from local pharmacies because they are mail order only, or some of the medications are in specialty tiers and are too expensive, or the insurer just doesn't cover that medication.
But even though I'm working specifically for the HIV/AIDS community, this is an issue that could affect people with diabetes who live in rural areas or people who need cancer drugs. These are issues that exist but just don't get visibility.
4. Why is this type of work important to the health of our community?
Advocacy work is important because these issues aren't things we think about. For those of us who are lucky enough to be healthy and have never met anyone dealing with these issues, we don't know their importance. We've only gotten this far as a country because we have learned to think about and care for someone else. According to 2014 surveillance data by DHEC, which even then is conservative because of lack of tests, there are over 16,000 individuals currently living with HIV/AIDS in South Carolina. My job helps me bring attention to the needs of those people.
Part of my philosophy is that people are their own best advocates. It is my job to help people be that best advocate for themselves and to empower them with information and help them navigate the issue.
5. How does your work on the task force intersect with your other interests?
My work with the task force is yet another extension of what is at the heart of my activism: I want to make our state a better place to live. The people of this state deserve action on the issues that have continued to overshadow all of the wonderful things about it. And, sure, it is going to take time to achieve all of that change. That's just a fact. But, what is also a fact is that we'll see the changes we want sooner if we're willing to stay here and fight to make them reality.
*Bonus Question: What are things that make you happy?
Cat videos, Pokemon, and eating healthy!