HRC Blog

Latinos and HIV/AIDS: A Call to Arms for Gay and Bisexual Men

This post comes from Daniel Montoya, Deputy Executive Director of the National Minority AIDS Council:

Twenty-five years ago, I was a young gay man living and attending college in Austin, Texas.  While Austin was and is a relatively progressive city, in the mid-80s, it seemed a world away from the gay meccas of San Francisco and New York City.  Coming out was not an easy process, and living as an openly gay man posed a whole host of challenges.  Still, it was important to me to be truthful about who I was and fight for full equality.  At the time, I never could have imagined the huge strides that our community would make over the next two and a half decades.

As a young gay man attending college in Austin, I also experienced what had become a right of passage for so many gay men of my generation – I was diagnosed with HIV.  At the time, very little treatment was available.  AZT had just been approved, but its affects were extremely toxic and the life expectancy of someone diagnosed with HIV was terrifyingly short.  Once again, I could not have imagined the monumental advances that would be made in the treatment and prevention of HIV that today have kept me healthy and placed us in the position to realistically envision an end to this terrible epidemic.

Unfortunately, while much has changed, one thing has remained constant.  Gay and bisexual men, as well as transgender women, continue to be the populations most severely impacted by HIV, especially gay men of color.  In 2009, gay and bisexual men accounted for 61 percent of all new HIV infections.  The trends are even more alarming for young gay men.  Those between the ages of 13 and 29 accounted for 69 percent of all new HIV infections in that age group and 44 percent of all new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men.  Latino gay and bisexual men are the second most heavily impacted population in the U.S., behind black gay men. 

October 15 is National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD), an important opportunity to highlight the issues that fuel the epidemic and persistent health disparities facing the Latino community.  As a gay Latino man who has been living with HIV for almost 25 years, I understand all too well the factors that contribute to the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on Latinos, some of which apply to other communities of color like poverty, increased incarceration rates, access to quality health care, and others like language barriers, which mostly affect communities with high immigrant populations.  And while there is no singular “Latino culture,” the general premium placed on machismo may also serve to further stigmatize gay Latino men, increasing their vulnerability to HIV.

Awareness days like NLAAD provide occasions to raise the profile of issues that drive epidemics among specific populations, but they do much more.  NLAAD reminds us all that HIV/AIDS continues to be a major public health crisis in this country, both for communities of color and in particular for gay and bisexual men.  We have the tools to solve the crisis, but not without the commitment and dedicated action of the American public, especially those that are most vulnerable to HIV.  Last week, NMAC unveiled the Declaration to End HIV/AIDS in America, asking organizations and individuals to join us in the fight to end this epidemic.  Today, as a Latino gay man living with HIV, I renew my commitment to doing everything in my power to make HIV/AIDS history.  I hope that you will join me.  

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