From the Human Rights Campaign Blog…
When the first case of what would become known as HIV/AIDS was diagnosed more than 30 years ago, it was branded a “gay disease.” Homophobia and fear were rampant. Although gay and bisexual men were not the only community affected by HIV, they were among those who felt the greatest burden of the disease. Then, as today, gay and bisexual men, along with transgender women, have the highest rates of HIV infection in the United States.
HIV brought together the gay community in another, more affirming, way as well. LGBT leaders took to the frontlines to advocate for HIV education, prevention and treatment. And that mobilization contributed to the dramatic decreases in new infections—and deaths—in those early years and spurred a new level of political and social activism in the community.
The introduction of antiretroviral (ARV) treatments in the mid-1990s gave hope to those who were infected, improving health and extending life. It also resulted in HIV being less visibly prominent, and thus perceived by some as less serious. Yet, gay and bisexual men, while only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, still account for two thirds of new infections. Transgender women are at high risk for HIV, though there is more limited data regarding representation in the national overview.
One study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in five gay and bisexual men in 20 major cities today is HIV positive—with one in three not knowing they are infected. Nationally, the projection is that more than one in 10 gay men is HIV positive. These are rates that compare with some of the hardest hit parts of the world. Especially worrying is that new infections are increasing among gay men in this country – 12 percent between 2008-2010 – and they are the only group for which this is the case.
In focus groups conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation with gay and bisexual men, many of the same men who proclaimed there was “no stigma” in the gay community today told of having rejected partners who disclosed they were positive. Men who revealed their own positive status in the groups confirmed these as all too common experiences. Many opened up about their fears of what they envisioned a life with HIV to be like if they were to find out they were positive, in particular, the rejection they anticipated.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Recent research now shows that ARV treatment, which already is helping to improve the health and extend the life for so many people with HIV, also has the potential to play a powerful role the prevention of HIV. People who are on ongoing ARV treatment are now known to increase the chances of reducing transmission of infection to others by as much as 96 percent. And, for those who are HIV negative, new pre-exposure prophylaxis (referred to as PrEP) offer another tool, along with condoms, to maintain that status. PrEP is a once a day, prescription medication that reduces the risk of contracting HIV.
Greater Than AIDS is proud to join with HRC to confront the silence and stigma that is fueling this epidemic. Leveraging the support of HRC’s visibility and network of volunteers, we are working together to distribute tens of thousands of informational brochures and other giveaways at LGBT Prides across the country this summer and fall to help bring HIV out to the fore, including producing a new HIV/AIDS guide designed just for this purpose.
Read the full article on the Human Rights Campaign Blog.