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Fox News doesn't care if gay men in Tennessee die
The state has shocked HIV experts by turning away millions in federal HIV dollars. The decision was based on anti-trans smears propagated by Tucker Carlson and his executive producer, Justin Wells.
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The state of Tennessee has decided to refuse over eight million dollars in funding for HIV treatment and prevention, barring CDC funds from going to groups that need it.
The result will likely be a surge in HIV cases, sickness and death.
Why would a state turn away federal money, and ultimately bear the burden for paying for the sick and dying itself — or just let people die?
What kind of upside down world is it when the governor of a state is touting rejecting money for life-saving prevention and treatment, rather than touting that he got the federal government to give him money? And will other states follow suit?
The answers to those questions connect with the vicious smears propagated by Tucker Carlson on Fox News, who rails relentlessly against transgender people and their families, excoriating gender-affirming care as “gender mutilation” and condoning threats of violence against hospitals that, working with parents and doctors, offer gender-affirming care to transgender youth.
Carlson and his gay executive producer Justin Wells — Vice President of Tucker Carlson Digital Products — not only promote those smears regularly, but back in September “Tucker Carlson Tonight” brought on far-right extremist Matt Walsh, a columnist for the Daily Wire, who vilified the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville for providing gender-affirming care to trans youth. The appearance came a day after Walsh posted a Twitter thread of toxic anti-trans vitriol, attacking the highly-respected clinic for trans health.
Republican Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee immediately promised a “thorough investigation,” while he and others in the GOP in Tennessee spouted misinformation and bile about transgender youth and their parents, as they began ferreting out other possible lines of attack.
“We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain,” Lee said. “We have to protect Tennessee children.”
As Ben Ryan meticulously details on NBCNews.com, what followed ultimately led to the axing of millions of dollars in federal funds to combat HIV:
Tennessee’s recent decision to reject over $8 million in federal funds to combat HIV was motivated, at least in part, by right-wing provocateurs stoking anti-LGBTQ sentiment, according to four sources within the state Health Department.
The move by Republican Gov. Bill Lee will hamstring, if not cripple, efforts to combat one of the country’s most poorly controlled epidemics of the virus, HIV advocates said…
Basically, the attention on Vanderbilt metastasized into a broader assault by Republicans in the state, bowing to the most extreme elements in the party. The $8.3 million dollars from the CDC includes a “national plan focused, in part, on improving treatment and prevention of HIV in 50 local hot spots that account for about half of new HIV diagnoses nationally — a plan President Donald Trump endorsed in his 2020 State of the Union address,” Ryan reports.
As it became known following the attacks on Vanderbilt that Planned Parenthood and the Tennessee Transgender Task Force, however, are among the many groups and health-care facilities that are given funds — taking a small portion of the money, roughly $235,000 of $8.3 million — extremists sought to cut the funding to the two groups.
But because of a 2013 legal injunction, the Lee administration was prevented from cutting HIV-related federal funds specifically to Planned Parenthood.
So Lee just decided to cut all funding for HIV treatment and prevention, millions of life-saving dollars. Lee says the state of Tennessee will pick up the tab, which is extraordinary as well as highly unrealistic, according to HIV experts. And Lee decided that gay men — the group most at risk for HIV — would no longer be a priority of Tennessee’s HIV efforts anyway:
In addition, the Lee administration, which has said it will replace the federal funds with state dollars, has pledged a shift in funding priorities that would effectively steer HIV prevention efforts away from groups at substantial risk of contracting the virus, including gay men and people who inject drugs.
“All of this is willful ignorance on the part of the state government,” said Greg Millett, the director of public policy at amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. “People at risk for HIV are going to suffer because of these decisions.”
So there will quite likely be a surge in HIV infections — as we’ve seen in other states where the epidemic was mishandled, such as Indiana, under then-Governor Mike Pence. As is the case regarding HIV across the South, this surge will disproportionately affect gay men of color.
Many people will get sick, and some will die. And other states in which the GOP is embroiled in QAnon conspiracies and MAGA bombast will follow Tennessee.
It’s appalling that all of this is directly incited by the anti-trans attacks by right-wing extremists. And that Tucker Carlson, the most powerful among them, has amplified that message of hate on Fox News. That a gay man, Carlson’s executive producer and vice president, Justin Wells, is harming other gay men, inspiring politicians to kill all HIV funding, is astoundingly shameful.