I was there to speak about women and HIV and international issues as I had been appointed as an NGO delegate to the board of directors of UNAIDS, where I would later become a staff member.
That morning, when we walked in through a side door of the Treasury Building, I remember hugging my friend Eric Sawyer as he and many others with ActUP boycotted the meeting, demanding that the President do more to address HIV and AIDS in the United States. Certainly after the catastrophic responses of previous presidents, these activists were expecting President Bill Clinton to finally get it right. It was perhaps too little, too late, but that conference was a start and would, eventually, lead to good things.
That hug, however, meant everything to me because I knew that the activists outside were also my friends and would be there for me when the day would end. We were all in this fight together, I was simply a spokeswoman for our community of people living with and impacted by HIV and AIDS.
I was nervous, humbled, overwhelmed, you name it; I had all the feels that day. In the morning, we’d had a meeting of experts and activists working on international issues around HIV and I took notes as everyone spoke and then, over lunch, (with my prized M&Ms in special White House packaging) I drafted my comments and tried to touch on everyone’s concerns and be as inclusive as possible.
When I met the President, I quickly remembered a movie I’d watched in my youth where a woman was sent to debunk a beauty pageant but then, when she won, she was overcome with emotions and embraced her crowning moment. My moment was similar, I was there to make clear some of the many (many) issues that needed to be addressed but when the President shook my hand, I felt myself blush. He seemed back-lit and I was momentarily awestruck. Okay, I was awestruck.
Our conference went on and I spoke and, I guess, did alright. People applauded and everything was good and it all felt like a blur. I’d just had one of the most extraordinary experiences of my then 31 years and I was in a complete haze of wow. It was the only time I ever was, or probably will be, be mentioned in The New York Times. It was a wild, weird, wonderful day.
A few hours later, there was a reception for everyone involved and I was told the President wouldn’t be able to join us, but the First Lady would. I was delighted because I thought she was remarkable in her own right. Patsy Fleming, then the AIDS Czar for the Clinton Administration, introduced me and I was impressed by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s kindness. When we spoke, she was entirely present and for a brief moment, I was drawn into her world.
Mostly, however, I was impressed by her brain. I referenced a panel she’d been on with a friend of mine in China some years prior and she immediately remembered my friend by name and asked how she was. Her brain was like a mechanical Rolodex (the paper version of a contact list before smartphones) and she seemed to be able to call up any piece of information with a minimum of prompting. And she was funny and I genuinely felt she was pleased to meet me.
On that day, I helped put a tiny chink in the ceiling of AIDS activism as I sat at that table with those most remarkable humans discussing the pandemic. Since then, I have continued to admire Hillary Rodham Clinton and while I acknowledge her flaws – we all have them – I still believe she is an extraordinary human being and I believe she will make an excellent President.
I felt so proud to have met her, albeit briefly and a long time ago, as I listened to her give her speech this week as she continued smashing that glass ceiling and became the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, the first woman to achieve that distinction.
And there you have it, my little story of how and when I met Hillary Rodham Clinton, the woman I hope will become our next President of The United States. #ImWithHer