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Revive the Conversation

Revive the Conversation


When was the last time you talked about HIV/AIDS?

For far too many, the answer is, "Not lately." "Don't ask, don't tell" repeal, securing job protections through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, marriage equality -- these are things many of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender talk about with great frequency. These are making the headlines in the LGBT community. But HIV/AIDS? Not so much.

Has the LGBT community moved on? We hope not.

While we've made strides in our struggle for equality in the workplace and our relationships, the LGBT community continues to face inequity when it comes to HIV/AIDS. Approximately 30,000 gay and bisexual men and transgender women are infected every year in the United States.

The U.S. has more than 1 million people living with HIV, more than any other industrialized nation.

As a result, HIV/AIDS has taken more than a half million lives in the U.S., with more dying each day.

It's time we as a community start talking about this terrible disease again.

For those who believe it is a thing of the past or something that just affects sub-Saharan Africa, think again. HIV/AIDS is still very much with us. In fact, between 2005 and 2008, HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men (MSM) actually increased 17%. And new Centers for Disease Control data of 21 major cities found that MSM account for 57% of new HIV infections in the U.S.

Make no mistake, the HIV/AIDS epidemic remains a crisis in this country, especially in the LGBT community.

It's time we in the LGBT community talk about it again. And unlike in the 1980s when President Reagan refused to even say the word "AIDS," we'll have a partner in that discussion -- the White House.

This summer the White House released the first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). In that strategy the White House concluded that existing federal and state HIV-prevention programs have failed to adequately target gay and bisexual men and transgender people and that the effect has been devastating. Specifically, the report says, "Given the starkness and the enduring nature of the disparate impact on gay and bisexual men, it is important to significantly reprioritize resources and attention on this community. ... The United States cannot reduce the number of HIV infections nationally without better addressing HIV among gay and bisexual men."

Now that the White House has joined the discussion, we need to make sure the LGBT community is an active partner in that discussion -- that we are strong advocates for ensuring that the implementation of the plan matches the strength and clarity of its call for resources.

And even though HIV/AIDS affects more people today than ever, the alarm that once accompanied it has subsided. The media has all but gone silent on it. The reasons? No doubt, there are many. However, it's likely that one reason is that the epidemic disproportionately affects black and Latino gay and bisexual men and transgender women. Of the lessons learned in the first years of the epidemic, it is that racism and fear of sexuality and gender identity prevent the very conversations that could save lives.

It's time we talk about HIV/AIDS again.

The NHAS is a step in the right direction. For the first time, there is a national plan that will coordinate resources and focus on prevention and treatment outcomes. For the first time, there's a plan that acknowledges the disproportionate impact of HIV on African Americans and Latinos, as well as gay and bisexual men of all races.

Now we need to keep that focus. We need to remind our nation that HIV/AIDS is still here, that it's still taking lives, and that we can do something about it.

And so when we're talking about "don't ask, don't tell" or marriage equality or bullying of LGBT youths, we need to also talk about HIV/AIDS because these are not disconnected, distinct issues.

How is it that the continuing HIV/AIDS crisis can be dismissed, virtually ignored for the past decade? For the same reason that Proposition 8 found electoral approval. It is because our fight for dignity, full equality, and respect is unfinished.

Not until same-sex relationships are fully recognized as equal to opposite-sex relationships; not until a gay or bisexual soldier's sacrifice is equal to that of a straight soldier; not until we put an end to the chipping away of a young boy's self-esteem by bullying in the schoolyard; not until there is a time when the concern is not who we love but that we love will the stigma of HIV/AIDS fade. And only then will our nation do all it can to finally put an end to a disease that so significantly impacts gay and bisexual men and people of color.

And that's only going to happen if we talk about it. Our lives, the lives of thousands of people, and the strength of the LGBT community depend on it.

So when was the last time you talked about HIV/AIDS?

Make it today.

Dr. Marjorie Hill, CEO, Gay Men's Health Crisis; Rea Carey, executive director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; and Paul Kawata, executive director, National Minority AIDS Council

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