Even as We Celebrate the DOMA Victory, There’s Another Battle We’re Losing
Two weeks ago as we celebrated the rulings handed down by the Supreme Court, there were cheers all across the country. However, while everyone was cheering, I was giving two young men in their 20s, results from an HIV test. The results were HIV positive. Marriage equality has been the focal point for many of the top LGBT organizations in America. HIV/AIDS has taken a back seat.
Data released this past year by the CDC, shows that HIV is rising among gay and bisexual men. The troubling news about these statistics are the ages of these men. College aged men between 20-25 are the next generation of men infected with HIV. If you look at the numbers presented by the CDC from 2010 through 2012—half of college aged men will have HIV by the time they are 50 years old.
The numbers presented by the CDC point to a nationwide trend. Here in Delaware, our numbers of newly infected gay/bisexual men has gone up during the past two years. Also, many of our summertime visitors come from places such as Baltimore, DC, and Philadelphia which are also on an upwards trend. These numbers are especially alarming for us here in Rehoboth because the three communities merge here in the summer fueled by sex, drugs, and alcohol.
HIV spreads because we have allowed it to become hidden. Jumpstarting the discussion on HIV and stopping the stigma around it might help decrease the number of our young men getting infected. Dialoguing with men who are positive is also very important. These young men in our community may face rejection and stigma every time they start a new relationship or seek out sex. Even with all the available facts about transmission, medications, and prevention, there still remains much stigma and misinformation. This stigma is one of the biggest reasons why positive men may not choose to disclose their status. This leads to new infections. Negative men need to take responsibility also and ask about status, educate themselves on sexual health issues, and not make assumptions.
Testing is another way to begin this discussion. If you don’t know your status, it means you need to be tested. If you do know, and you’re negative, it means getting tested on a regular schedule based on your risk level.
One of the aspects about new infections we don’t often discuss is why men make risky choices and become infected. We assume it’s a matter of getting men to use condoms—it’s more complicated than that. If guys are not feeling good about themselves and not getting the emotional or mental support they need, they are more likely to take sexual risks. Many of these guys are not empowered to make choices about safer sex, condom negotiation or disclosure when they aren’t feeling good about themselves. If we see someone in our lives or social circle like this—we need to step up and help them.
The two men that came in for testing are still in denial about their results. It will take time for them to adjust to what being HIV positive means for them, and for their physical, mental, and sexual health. The battles we have won in the past few weeks won’t help these two men deal with their HIV status, and really won’t stop the next generation of men from getting infected. If we want to help these men, it is time to integrate HIV/AIDS back into the national LGBT message.
CAMPsafe is an HIV/AIDS education and prevention program funded, in part, by a contract with the Delaware Division of Public Health. Free HIV testing is available at CAMP Rehoboth. Call 302-227-5620 for information.