We are living in thrilling times for the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS. It’s helpful to know that with all the tools we have, we can eradicate this disease in our country. However, our current statistics regarding HIV and AIDS awareness are alarming. A staggering one in three gay men have never been tested for HIV. When you consider that gay/bi/MSM (men who have sex with men) make up 2 percent of the U.S. population but account for 70 percent of new HIV diagnoses, these numbers reflect that many things still need to change.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if current HIV trends persist, one in two black gay/bi/MSM will contract HIV in their lifetime. Stigma and homophobia are often cited as the reasons many gay/bi/MSM don’t get tested or seek treatment or engage in unprotected sexual behaviors. We must also be mindful of and combat religious and cultural stigma toward the LGBTQ community. For example, the contempt some religious institutions have for LGBTQ folks fuels an "othering" and facilitates division within an already marginalized and fragmented community.
This division often results in apathetic social environments leading to the displacement of LGBTQ folks, particularly youth, in addition to mental health disparities resulting from social isolation and the festering of internalized stigma. This societal fracture and disgruntlement are also exacerbated by and influence the laws and policies made by some social institutions that encourage, promote, and help to elect lawmakers who impose criminalization laws, including HIV-specific statutes, due to their feelings of indifference and disdain for the LGBTQ communities.
There is no more important of a time for us to create an open dialogue around these facts and issues surrounding today’s age of prevention and treatment. We need to continue to lobby Congress for better HIV policies and we also need to educate our youth. Access to LGBTQ-inclusive, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education has never been more paramount. We must have more queer-competent health services and talk to doctors about prevention strategies like PrEP and PEP as well as best practices for how to care for yourself if you do contract HIV. Mostly, we must overturn years of stigmas and "isms" by developing strong alliances with the straight-identifying community.
It's 2018; we will overcome this epidemic. HIV doesn't have to be a death sentence, and disclosure doesn't have to be scary. In fact, when people living with HIV are on medication and durably undetectable, we now know that there is effectively no risk of transmitting the virus sexually. We urge you to show your support by finding a way to engage in reducing stigma and starting a conversation today in honor of National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Start a dialogue with someone in your family and friends circle. Share some information and share the love. We can reverse the alarming trends among gay/bi/MSM and totally eradicate HIV stigma and continually reduce new HIV acquisitions once and for all. We have all the tools, but all we need is you. And we can do it together.
DANIEL FRANZESE is an actor and ambassador to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. This statement was cosigned by designer ZAC POSEN, Pennsylvania State Rep BRIAN SIMS, actor OMAR SHARIF JR., hairstylist JOSÉ EBER, Finding Prince Charming winner ERIC LEONARDIS, filmmaker ADAM SHANKMAN, activist DEONDRE MOORE, and Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation officer TIM MENDELSON.