HRC Blog

Reflecting and Recommitting on World AIDS Day

Post submitted by Rev. MacArthur H. Flournoy, HRC Director for Faith Partnership and Mobilization

As we mark another World AIDS Day, and I mark more than 20 years living with HIV, I see today as more than a day of remembrance. This year’s World AIDS Day sparkles with great promise, as we can begin to see the end of the global AIDS epidemic. 

I have come to realize that in every life, there are particular moments when we are called to stop, reflect and ask ourselves difficult questions that can only be answered by the wisdom of the ages. World AIDS Day is one such occasion. It invites us to remember the millions of lives that have been lost to HIV/AIDS. It is also a perfect opportunity to spend some time expressing our gratitude to be alive in this moment in history.

Today’s anti-HIV medicines could help us reach that once unbelievable goal: an AIDS-free generation.  When I was first diagnosed in the late ’80s, my nurse told me I carried the virus and warned me to get my affairs in order. But today, there are simpler drugs to take, requiring fewer daily pills and causing serious side effects less often. 

They’re also more effective.  Nurses and doctors are now telling newly diagnosed patients that they can enjoy about the same life expectancy as those without HIV if they stick to their treatment plan. The same medicines also make it less likely to transmit the virus.

Now I’m a man of faith, ordained with the church. And I know that medicine can only get us so far. One must have access to the kind of health care that’s needed and knowledge of the many tools that exist to treat and prevent.

I will never forget the day when I heard a member of the clergy – whose ministry I served abroad for a year in Africa – describe HIV as a scourge for our sins. He declared from the pulpit, “We need to allow the judgment of God to stand – as punishment for those who are gay.” His words stung. But what stung worse were the 2,500 voices responding “Amen.”

My faith informs me otherwise – God is Love! I believe we all are made in the likeness and image of God. In my travels across this nation, I have met many loving, compassionate and caring people of faith from a plurality of faith traditions who support an end to the suffering associated with HIV, and who support LGBT equality. They hold these values not in spite of their faith but because of it.

The truth is, even with science on our side, poverty, injustice and stigma are obstacles in our path. We must do everything we can to narrow the gaps and seize this opportunity while we have it.

Over the past decade in the U.S., gay and bisexual men are one of the few groups for whom HIV rates have been on the rise. Rates are even more alarming for our most marginalized communities – African-Americans, Latinos and transgender communities –  because of structural inequalities that make us more likely to come in contact with HIV and less able to treat it.

Imagine the differences employment and housing play alone. Picture two young men: one with a full-time job, an apartment near work and a doctor down the street, and another with two part-time jobs, living in low-income housing and without health care coverage. Both are gay, but one is regularly at his doctor while the other doesn’t have a doctor. One is thinking of Friday nights as social events while the other is working his second job. One has a grocery store in his building while the other is in a food desert.

The consequences for what this reality means for HIV treatment and prevention are clear.

Even for those who have health care, many are discovering infections late, when they have already lost much of their immune system.  Some HIV-positive guys, meanwhile, have stopped using condoms and turned away from disclosure. In doing so, they don’t realize that while the medicines reduce their odds of passing HIV, they can’t stop it every time.

As part of World AIDS Day, special focus is being paid to the more than 2 million adolescents across the globe living with HIV – and lacking the care or support they need to stay in good health. Here in the U.S., one in four new HIV infections occur in youth ages 13 to 24, with alarmingly high rates among young African-American and Latino gay and bisexual men. Research is showing that a large proportion of young people aren’t concerned about becoming infected.

But still there’s hope. With a growing chorus of voices speaking out and dedicating resources to HIV/AIDS, and with science on our side, we can see the day when HIV is a disease of the past.

If, like me, you’re living with HIV on this World AIDS Day and have access to care, we have power like never before.  We can choose our own destiny by taking our medicines on time, living long and healthy lives.  And we can affect someone else’s destiny, by continuing to protect our partners and speaking out about the need for more education and access.

Three decades ago, HIV’s horrors had a lot to do with bringing our communities together against a common enemy.  Today, many gay and bisexual men lament that there’s no community anymore. You can build it: one pill, one condom and one voice at a time.  Today we can lay claim to our faith, hope and love as sources of strength to support our resiliency. I really do believe, that within all of us, there is a river of hope and reservoir of untapped possibility.

That’s right:  you have the power to keep yourself and your community healthy.  That may be the best way to honor this year’s World AIDS Day. 

 

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