Today marks National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day, an opportunity to focus the nation's attention on the impact of HIV and AIDS on Latinx communities. And focus our attention, we must. With HIV transmission rates on the rise among Latinx LGBTQ people, it is imperative that we recognize HIV as the intersectional issue that is it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinxs accounted for 24 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in 2014 despite comprising only 17 percent of the entire U.S. population. While that number is unacceptably high by any measure, it pales in comparison to the alarming rates of HIV transmission we're seeing among Latinxs in the LGBTQ community.
Between 2005 and 2014, HIV diagnoses fell by 4 percent among all Latinxs except Latino gay and bisexual men, among whom rates have steadily increased. In fact, the CDC now estimates that if current trends continue one in four Latino gay and bisexual men will contract HIV in their lifetime. One in four. The situation is also dire for Latina transgender women, who continue to experience disproportionately higher rates of HIV transmission when compared to their white and cisgender (i.e., non-transgender) counterparts. A 2008 survey of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the U.S. found that nearly 8 percent of Latina respondents reported living with HIV, more than double the percentage of all trans respondents.
These numbers should shake all of us to our core.
Behind every statistic is a real person whose life has been impacted by HIV. All too often, our organizations encounter people like Alexa Rodriguez, a brave transgender woman who contracted HIV from a partner years after she immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. Or people like Steven Vargas, a LULAC Houston member and long-term survivor who has been living with HIV since 1995. Steven lost both of his parents to AIDS-related complications.
Their stories speak to some of the social, legal, and cultural barriers Latinx LGBTQ people face in getting tested or treated for HIV, including language and immigration status. Many undocumented Latinxs, for example, avoid seeking HIV-related services altogether for fear of violence, harassment, and deportation - fears that are only compounded when woven together with homophobia and transphobia.
As leaders of two of the nation's largest LGBTQ and Latinx civil rights organizations, we have a tremendous responsibility to ensure that any talk of an "AIDS-free generation" includes tackling the unique issues facing LGBTQ Latinxs. That means continuing to educate our members and supporters about the current realities of HIV, advocating for sound public policies that address the societal barriers keeping people from getting connected to care, and combating stigma wherever it rears its ugly head. It means reminding people to get tested early and often for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, to take advantage of new HIV prevention and treatment options like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), and to vote for candidates at all levels who support our communities and share our priorities.
In a time when both the LGBTQ and Latinx communities have so much at stake, our organizations reaffirm our shared commitment to pushing for a world where all people can lead healthy, meaningful lives regardless of their HIV status. We'll only get there by working together.
BRENT A. WILKES is the National Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. MARY BETH MAXWELL is Senior Vice President for Research, Training, and Programs at the Human Rights Campaign.