National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
September 27, 2011 by Andrea Levario, Senior Public Policy Advocate
Today is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, an event founded by the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) to remind gay men that the epidemic continues and that they have a critical role to play in ending it.
HRC is proud to support the day and to have played host yesterday to a national conference, sponsored by NAPWA, on gay men and HIV/AIDS in our Washington, DC headquarters. With gay men accounting for half of the more than one million Americans living with HIV, and the number of infections among men who have sex with men continuing to grow, this awareness day is more critical than ever.
Since HRC was founded, fighting the epidemic has been a key part of our policy mission. Those statistics tell you why – HIV has devastated, and continues to disproportionately impact, gay men and the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
For nearly thirty years, we have stood shoulder to shoulder with HIV/AIDS advocacy groups to fight for a stronger federal commitment to prevention, treatment and research; to seek more tools to combat discrimination and stigma against those living with the virus; and to put an end to HIV policy driven by ideology rather than the best public health science.
We have also seen some major steps forward in our fight for LGBT equality, and those are victories in our struggle against HIV and AIDS as well. Every advance we make in protecting our community from discrimination and seeing our relationships treated equally also helps us fight the epidemic. These efforts have practical effects – like getting more people access to healthcare – that help prevent new infections and keep those living with HIV healthier. But they also have the broader impact of breaking down the prejudice and homophobia that lead gay men to engage in the behaviors that keep the transmission rate in our community so alarmingly high.
When we make it safer for gay men to live openly with less fear of discrimination and violence, to form relationships that are not just tolerated, but respected and celebrated, fewer of them will live out their sexual lives underground, engaging in behaviors that increase their risk of becoming positive. Every time we achieve a victory like a federal hate crimes law, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal or marriage in New York, we show our community, and particularly the next generation of gay men, that their sexual orientation need not be a barrier to living the lives they want to live. We help build a nation that respects gay men and helps them to respect themselves.
Of course, we still have a long way to go to build that nation. We have to keep pushing forward, for the sake of our broader equality and to secure an end to this epidemic. We have to keep pushing forward together, because our opposition continues to use HIV as a weapon against LGBT equality. For example, during this summer’s debate over marriage equality in New York, a local elected official upstate remarked, “I'm surprised the health department has not come out against this because we are going to have an HIV epidemic if this passes.” And just earlier this week, in response to the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer claimed, “If open homosexuals are allowed into the United States military, the Taliban won't need to plant dirty needles to infect our soldiers with HIV. Our own soldiers will take care of that for them.”
We have to keep pushing forward together because we have a responsibility to our own community, particularly our youth. After a rash of recent youth suicides connected to LGBT bullying, there has been an outpouring of support from our community. Through hundreds and hundreds of videos at the It Gets Better Project, we have told young LGBT people that there is a bright and hopeful future for them. But with HIV transmission rates among young gay men, particularly in communities of color, at staggering levels, we have to do so much more than simply tell them that life will be better. They have to know that HIV is not over, that tremendous advances in treatment are not a cure, and that they must respect themselves and their partners by knowing their status.
To learn more about National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and what you can do to raise awareness and fight the epidemic, go to www.napwa.org.