Mike Pence honored World AIDS Day this weekend by tweeting his support for people living with HIV, but it’s safe to say the sentiments were not warmly received.
In a Sunday tweet, the vice president paid tribute to the 1.1 million people in the U.S. who are HIV-positive, as well as the generations who lost their lives as medical researchers struggled to respond to what was initially reported in the New York Times as a “rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals.” Around 700,000 Americans have died from complications related to HIV/AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Today [Karen Pence] and I stand with everyone living with HIV and AIDS and we honor the memory of those lost,” Pence tweeted from his official vice presidential Twitter account.
LGBTQ+ Twitter users, however, were quick to remind Pence that he presided over an HIV outbreak as governor of Indiana, one that was, in part, fueled by his own policies. Kinder responses referred to the vice president as a “hypocrite,” while more colorful replies informed him where he could stick his tweet.
Shortly after Pence took office, the sole Planned Parenthood clinic in Scott County, a rural district near the border of Indiana, closed due to decreases in public funding. It was the only place to get tested for HIV/AIDS in the area.
According to the New York Times, the center’s closure caused a “public health emergency” in Scott County, where a fifth of residents live below the poverty line. Between December 2014 and March 2015, 71 new cases of HIV were reported, the majority of which were contracted through intravenous drug use.
Pence was personally implicated in that scandal. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013, he repeatedly fought to defund Planned Parenthood due to his pro-life beliefs. And as governor of Indiana, Pence balked for weeks on introducing a needle-sharing exchange program that would have slowed the HIV outbreak in Scott County by allowing drug users to inject safely.
Pence, who opposes needle exchanges on moral grounds, didn’t cave for three months.
It has been more of the same since Pence became a member of the Trump administration in January 2017. His boss has proposed more than $1 billion in cuts to programs that fight HIV/AIDS around the world, which critics said would result in “millions” of new diagnoses. He pushed policies that would allow religious health care workers to deny care to people living with HIV.
Meanwhile, Trump — who is responsible for more than 130 attacks against LGBTQ+ people since taking office — has repeatedly omitted any mention of the community in proclamations recognizing World AIDS Day. Pence’s tweet likewise failed to mention queer and transgender people.
At the time of publication, Pence has not responded to criticism of his World AIDS Day tweet.