Playbill.com reported July 20 that Dole's plan had caused an uproar angering many who have worked for and been affected by HIV/AIDS. Among those offended by Dole's proposition were Tom Viola, the Executive Director of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and Philip S. Birsh, the President and Publisher of Playbill, who also serves as the BC/EFA Treasurer.
Viola, who had expressed his displeasure in a mass e-mail, told Playbill.com July 22 that he offers his "sincere thanks to all who responded to [his] e-mail expressing outrage that Senator Elizabeth Dole was trying to whitewash Jesse Helms' despicable 20-year record on AIDS in the United States Senate, as it affected hundreds of gay men, as well as men and women in communities of color in the United States - by naming the a global AIDS relief bill in his honor.
"Your quick response and efforts to let Senator Dole know that such a cynical move would not be tolerated paid off.
"As a staffer in Dole's Senate office told a friend of mine who called her office directly said: 'Yes, we have been inundated with phone calls, e-mails, telegrams and letters the vast majority opposing the Senator's efforts,' which ultimately failed."
Members of Dole's staff told The News and Observer, a North Carolina newspaper, that "Dole's amendment wasn't considered because she introduced it too late — after a procedural move had already determined which changes could be considered." "This is a convenient way of 'saving face' without having the amendment defeated by Senate vote," says Viola. The bill — without Helms' named attached — is known as PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and has been passed by the Senate. The bill will now go to the House, where it is expected to pass.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the nation's largest industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. Since its founding in 1988 the organization has distributed over $130 million for services for people with AIDS, HIV or HIV-related illnesses. For more information visit www.BroadwayCares.org.
Helms was a long-time opponent to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and research. In fact, the blog Joe.My.God has recalled many of Helms' AIDS-related comments:
Jesse Helms, the man who in 1995 said (in opposition to refunding the Ryan White Act) that the government should spend less on people with AIDS because they got sick due to their "deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct." In a mass e-mail BC/EFA's Viola writes, "I hope you'll give some thought to how sickeningly ironic this is. It spits on the graves of hundreds of thousands of Americans, men women and children of every race and economic background who died of AIDS, including scores of my friends. . . . Helms made institutionalized neglect, disdain and hatred government's official response and he carried the day for a long while as people I loved, knew well, casually and worked with died. . . Dole's recommendation demeans hundreds of thousands of Americans currently living with HIV/AIDS and implies that Helms' hatred for gay men and Americans of color everywhere (except in Africa where they are safely a continent away) is acceptable, even good. In Jesse Helms' world we are all dispensable, better dead. . . . It's a sad, sick and deliberate attempt to re-write history and clean-up Helms' sad legacy. His hatred goes down in history. People will refer to it for decades. Dole wants to minimize that, create plausible deniability. 'Look a Jesse Helms AIDS bill. Clearly he cared.' He did not."
Playbill President Birsh added, "It is inconceivable that a bill would be named after a man so intolerant and divisive. As Treasurer of Broadway Cares/EFA, it is my duty to publicly object to this irrational and poorly considered pandering to the memory of a man known for his cruelty to all those who suffered with HIV/AIDS during his time in the Senate."