Here To Inspire

 Op-ed: Why the Next Generation Needs Us to Talk About AIDS



Today, the national gay political organizations, once the most outspoken champions of gay men at risk for HIV, are consumed with fighting for the right to “marriage equality.” In their view, the HIV-focused organizations are “taking care of” the politics of the epidemic. But those organizations stopped advocating for gay men back in the 1980s, when they realized women and children were less “controversial” than standing up for the gay and bisexual men most in need of advocacy because most widely affected.

With no one looking out for gay and bisexual men, especially men of color, and with the pernicious 1987 Helms amendment still blocking federal funding for realistic prevention programs, taxpayer dollars intended for HIV prevention continue to be squandered on general information campaigns rather than paying for targeted, explicit campaigns aimed at those who most need them. Prevention educators continue to puzzle over how best to reach both young and not-so-young men with messages of hope and healing that are desperately needed by people who experience appalling cruelty and hatred at the hands of peers, too often parents, and American society at large. Meanwhile, recent research into gay men’s love lives is yielding fascinating new ways to tailor HIV prevention strategies based on an individual’s personal information.

The deadly silence resounds across gay America, from New York to San Francisco, in bedrooms and in boardrooms where the leaders of gay and lesbian organizations meet to discuss their priorities, which always seem to leave out HIV. Young gay men don’t want to hear about the struggle and suffering of their community in the darkest years of the plague. Older men, survivors, likewise don’t want to talk about it, instead withdrawing from the gay community after years of grief and rage.

As a fourth decade of AIDS begins, the challenge remains to transmute our losses and victories in the AIDS years into an inspiring story of love in action. As always, it will be up to each of us to draw the strength we need from our individual and collective resilience. Spanning the generations of age and experience, mentors can help teach their younger protégés to tap their, and our, resilience by sharing our stories of courageous men and women who refused to surrender. In these stories of this latter-day army of lovers lie gay America’s heroic legacy, our hope, and our future.