As we embark upon another World AIDS Day we must continue to keep HIV/AIDS as a strategic priority and to not allow it to become an afterthought among the emerging and ongoing socioeconomic and political issues before us.
Let's Not Forget About AIDS on World AIDS Day
Prior to the 1996 introduction of the lifesaving protease inhibitors, the LGBT movement’s energy was consumed by the AIDS epidemic. We clearly reacted to the emergency that it was as we lost many people along the way. In several ways our attention, energies and resources were not available to pursue other issues.
Though our quest for equality and civil rights didn’t end, we were clearly distracted by our need to defend those suffering from discrimination, care for the sick and dying and press our government for a response.
But after the drug cocktails were introduced and people began living longer and more vibrant lives, the community it seemed was lulled into a false sense of stability and confidence. Though we did not declare victory, we believed ourselves free to move on to other matters that had, in some cases, languished or suffered due to lack of leadership and resources.
By this time many of the ACT UP activists passed on including some of the most aggressive Black gay men who were most vocal about HIV prevention. Many of us who did survive became burned out and decided to move onto other life endeavors. Strangely, although people no longer were visibly sick on the streets and in our communities, HIV/AIDS still managed to spread under our radar.
Gay news agencies have recently reported a major increase in new HIV/AIDS infection from previous years reporting. However, this increase doesn’t necessarily represent a surge in HIV/AIDS infections. Sources within the CDC advise us that what we are seeing for the first time is more detailed and accurate reporting by state agencies on HIV/AIDS in general. Whatever the facts about the increases, the epidemic is far from over and the new population of people living with HIV and AIDS is young, Black and female.
So for the past decade while the LGBT community has been focusing on other pressing social justice issues, HIV/AIDS has been silently growing in non-gay and Black communities in dramatic numbers. AIDS has become a not so silent thief in the night, stealing the future of our youth and undermining the very fabric of Black communities in cities and counties across the country.
It is urgent that the LGBT movement begin to refocus more of its energy and attention to dealing with HIV/AIDS and strike a delicate balance between the hard fought social issues of today and the public health concerns of HIV/AIDS that lies ahead of us on tomorrow.
As a Black gay man I am often torn between communities. For so many Black LGBT communities HIV has never waned, there has been no respect. However, in my work with the LGBT movement, the AIDS epidemic is seldom on the list of priorities and we spend precious little time addressing the state of the pandemic.
In our valiant quest for desperately needed marriage equality let us not forget that 49% of new HIV/AIDS infections occur within the Black community. If we are indeed one community we must care because, as one of my friends likes to say, “dead people don’t get married.”
In our vibrant zeal to secure badly needed federal hate crimes protections, let us not forget that 61% of young people under the age 25 being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS is Black.
In our passionate desire to obtain crucially needed workplace protections through ENDA legislation, let us not forget that 48% of new HIV/AIDS infections emanate from Black men who have sex with men.
HIV/AIDS is still a major presence in the lives of Americans and increasingly has become a devastating specter within the Black community at large. Hence it could be tempting for the LGBT community to sweep issues dealing with HIV/AIDS under the rug.
It could be tempting for the LGBT community to declare HIV/AIDS as a secondary or even as a tertiary priority. It could also be tempting from a media messaging perspective no longer to equate the word "gay" with AIDS-related issues and instead focus on other social justice LGBT issues.
Combine all of this with the lifesaving drugs that only some people can afford and the threat of HIV/AIDS could potentially be rendered as null and void in the minds of some who would like to move forward to other issues.
But I encourage each of you to please take the time this World AIDS Day to rethink, re-assess and re-strategize how you view HIV/AIDS as it affects your life and lives of others. Although you may no longer be the face of HIV/AIDS there are many others struggling to survive who are.
Together we can end AIDS.