Post submitted by Marvell L. Terry II, HRC Foundation HIV/AIDS Fellow

The 19th annual U.S. Conference on AIDS wrapped up earlier this week, drawing thousands of HIV prevention researchers, advocates, and community leaders to Washington, D.C. HRC was proud to be a sponsor of this year’s event and to bring attention to some of the unique challenges facing the LGBT community. Here are five key takeaways from the conference:

1.) The numbers don’t lie.

The theme of this year’s conference was The Numbers Don’t Lie: It’s Time to End Health Disparities - a fitting title given the current realities of HIV. While HIV continues to affects Americans from all walks of life, the data make clear that some communities are much more heavily impacted than others. For example, gay and bisexual men make-up approximately 2% of the American population but roughly 63% of new HIV cases. Moreover, transgender women are 49 times more likely to contract HIV than their cisgender (i.e. non-transgender) counterparts. A number of factors explain such huge disparities, but the lesson here is that we will not be able to end the epidemic until we stem the tide of new infections among those hit hardest by HIV.

2.) Employment is a means of HIV prevention and treatment.

HRC supported the National Working Positive Coalition in hosting a pre-conference institute about HIV and employment. Although people living with HIV and AIDS are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, several barriers remain, including a lack of economic opportunities. The daylong convening highlighted the latest research in this area of work, best practices from the field, and innovative models for public-private partnership. HRC President Chad Griffin also kicked off a lunchtime plenary focused on how HRC is working with other civil rights organizations to ensure all Americans are able to lead healthy and productive regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.

3.) Black Lives Matter ... including those living with or affected by HIV.

Much like their name implies, NMAC (formerly known as the National Minority AIDS Council) made sure conversations about race and racial justice were intricately woven throughout the conference. But none featured more prominently than during the Friday afternoon plenary, which saw Black cisgender and transgender women take the stage to talk about the intersections between HIV prevention and reproductive justice. Additionally, DeRay McKesson - a prominent #BlackLivesMatter activist - talked candidly about moving through the world as a young, Black gay man and about his experience using Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent himself from contracting HIV.

4.) Transgender people should always be included in our advocacy.

Right before the start of the Saturday afternoon plenary, transgender people took the stage to demand more from the HIV and AIDS advocacy community. Led by trans, Latina activist Bamby Salcedo, protesters challenged conference attendees to do more for transgender people living with, or affected by, HIV. Protesters issued several calls-to-action, including a push for more transgender people in positions of power and for researchers to conduct their studies in ways that respect and honor a person’s gender identity.

5.) Our movements are stronger when they work together.

That was the message HRC Senior Specialist for HIV Prevention & Health Equity Noël Gordon delivered to the 3,000 attendees gathered in the hotel ballroom. Gordon joined Dr. Sorona Segal-Maurer and the Equal Justice Initiative's Brian Stevenson in a three-part plenary entitled Mind the Gap: From Vision to Reality. The purpose of the plenary was to offer bold ideas for bringing about an AIDS-free generation once and for all. Gordon drew several parallels between the fight for LGBT equality and the struggle to end HIV, pointing out that “we were once, and should always, be a movement united...because HIV prevention advocacy has been critical to the success of the LGBT rights movement.”

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