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    November 30, 2006

    Light up for World AIDS Day

    Posted by: Chris

    Lighttounite Tomorrow, December 1, is World AIDS Day, and a good opportunity to remind ourselves that the virus is still out there, still spreading, still incurable and still killing — even here in the U.S. Americans have been inundated in recent years with mostly good news about new HIV treatments, while the bad news about the spreading virus and death tolls are "global AIDS" stories, in faraway places like Africa and Asia.

    If the mainstream media — and many gay press outlets — would only pay attention, there are plenty of story threads to cover about HIV/AIDS in the U.S.:

    1. The stubbornly high rates of infection among African Americans, fueled by homophobia within black culture and the church, that keeps so many gay black men into the closet (call it "the down low" or not), putting at risk themselves and their male sex partners, girlfriends and wives. The media has sensationalized "the D.L." without ever really delving into its roots in the culture and the church — the same types of sources, of course, that keep white gay men in the closet, too.
    2. The uneven success of HIV meds, which have not cured the disease and, according to recent reserach, only extended the life expectancy — diagnosis to death — from 7 years to 24. And there's no "holiday" from HIV. The first large-scale study on taking "breaks" from HIV meds shows the risk of death doubling, even though the cause of death isn't necessarily AIDS-related. (One caveat: the study, which concludes patients should stay on a daily med regimen their whole lives, was partially funded by pharmaceutical companies.)
    3. The Bush administration's unconscionable elevation of idelogy over science in pushing "abstinence-only-until-marriage" as a viable HIV prevention strategy. Abstinence has a role to play in prevention, especially among young people who can be encouraged to delay an active sex life. As part of the ABC's— Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condoms — is a proven effective approach. But "abstinence-only-until-marriage" ignores reality and, given opposition to gay marriage, is irrelevant to the lives of young gay men, who remain a very high risk group. It's irresponsibility is second only to the Vatican's morally reprehensible opposition to condom use, even among heterosexual married couples with one spouse who is poz and one who is neg.
    4. The death of AIDS activism in the U.S. The virus wiped out a generation of gay men and the organizations they started are now largely run by non-profit professionals who no doubt care about the issue but act as if their fiduciary responsibility is to their board of directors and not to those living with the disease or at risk of being infected by it. Only a miniscule percentage of those board members are even HIV-positive. Co-opted by fat checks from the government and a decline in private donations, many HIV/AIDS groups have lost their critical voice like the ones raised above. When is the last time you saw a new, provocative, effective prevention message from an HIV/AIDS group in the U.S.? When was the last time you saw them publicly criticizing the Bush administration's response to the epidemic?

    What can you do? We all have a duty to stay informed and make sure our friends, family and those within our zone of influence, stay informed as well. Be careful that your AIDS donations go to groups that still have an effective message and responsible management.

    And finally, one small thing you can, is visit LightToUnite.org, an interesting site that allows you to read stories of those impacted by HIV and add your own. And Bristol-Myers, the big pharmaceutical that sponsors the site, will donate $1 for every person who visits. Be sure to add your own story, and make clear if the folks involved are gay. I read three-dozen accounts before coming across the first one that dealt with the issue openly, and it was a woman writing about her boyfriend's "homosexual "brother. Pretty scary in 2006, if that's all the representation we've got, but another of how the virus has mainstreamed.



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    1. Josh on Dec 1, 2006 3:40:36 PM:

      You might either know or want to know another depressing statistic, oft repeated on billboards all over the Metro: 1 in 20 DC residents are HIV-positive, and the city has the country's highest rate of new infections. In other words, the nation's capital has a greater infection rate than most of sub-Saharan Africa. If you look at any of the available statistics, starting at infection rates, the picture is dire.

      I have a sinking feeling this is due to the dynamic you've noted in African-American communities.

    1. Alan on Dec 1, 2006 6:51:03 PM:

      This could also be in part from the overwhelming amount of closeted gay Republican who go untested for fear of exposure or who feel that AIDS is now a manageable disease that their bank accounts and health insurance can cover.

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