2 young gay Atlanta leaders wow Democratic Convention

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Two young black LGBT leaders from Atlanta wowed the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, telling delegates – and a national audience – about a “rainbow of voices” and HIV's continued impact on gay men.

State Rep. Park Cannon, a women's health advocate who describes herself as queer, won a special election in February and became the third openly LGBT lawmaker in the state House. On Wednesday, a beaming Cannon told delegates at the convention in Philadelphia that she ran for office to represent people who often go unheard at the Georgia Capitol.

“I am a woman. I'm African-American. I'm queer. I am the newest member of the Georgia House of Representatives,” Cannon said to cheers from the crowd. (Watch video above)

“I ran for office because I represent the rainbow of voices that too often went unheard in our state's Capitol. We need to trust black women. Our America is unapologetically ready to stand together,” she added.

About two hours before Cannon, Daniel Driffin – a gay Atlanta man and HIV activist – became the first person to talk about HIV from the convention stage in 16 years. Driffin told the crowd that although HIV is on the decline among some populations, that gay black men like him still face great risk from the disease. 

“We know how to prevent the virus now. We know how to diagnose the virus now. We know how to treat it and we know how to repress it,” Driffin said. 

“And who are most at risk? Young, gay, black men. Men like me,” he added.

In February, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention said one in two black gay men will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime if current infection rates continue. That's compared to an overall rate of one in six men who have sex with men.

“What do we do to fight HIV/AIDS today? We invest in research and education. We expand treatment and prevention. And we elect Hillary Clinton,” Driffin said. 

Driffin is co-chair of the Fulton County Task Force on HIV/AIDS, which in June detailed an ambitious plan to eradicate HIV in Fulton County. On Wednesday, Driffin credited Clinton with fighting HIV throughout her political career.

“She advocated for the increased funding for prevention and research as First Lady and then worked to increase the funding in the Senate,” he said. 

Driffin added that Clinton defended the Ryan White Care Act, which funds medical care and support services for people with HIV across the U.S., and that as Secretary of State she helped to overturn a travel ban that prohibited people with HIV from entering the country.

“With Hillary Clinton as our president, I believe that we can meet our goals of an AIDS-free generation. So as an organizer, as an advocate, as a black man, as a gay man and as a man living with HIV, I ask you to go get tested and then go and vote,” Driffin said.

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