Nearly four decades ago, thousands of young healthy gay and bi men suddenly became sick, withered and died. Before doctors and epidemiologists could agree on what the strange illness was, it was called "gay cancer" or Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), later Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and now we know it's caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
Even as we began to recognize that HIV could strike people of any sexual orientation, gender, race, or religion; it remained entrenched in the gay community. Thousands of gay and bisexual American men died, and those that didn't sometimes feared it was a matter of time before they too would — as a college professor of mine once said euphemistically—"become a statistic."
This year’s theme, “The Conversation About HIV Is Changing: Talk Undetectable. Talk PrEP.” reflects the fact that we have the tools to end the epidemic in the United States, including treatment as prevention (TasP). We now know that if you take your meds and maintain an undetectable viral load you can't pass HIV sexually to your partners aka Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U). We also have what some have called a miracle drug: Truvada aka PrEP which reduces our risk of acquiring HIV substantially (up to 99 percent) and can even be taken just prior to having sex ("event based dosing").
HIV has been associated with the gay male community for so long it's hard to believe we still need to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS among gay men. But we do. Here's why.
1 in 6 of us will test positive.
Statistics still show HIV is more prevalent among gay and bi men — especially young Black bi and gay men. While gay and bisexual men only represent 2 percent of the male population, we represent 55 percent of all Americans currently living with HIV. A 2016 study makes things more disconcerting.
Gay and bi men accounted for 83 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2016 and 92 percent of new diagnoses among men between the ages of 13 and 24. If this trend continues, the Centers for Disease Control predicted that one in six gay and bi men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime — that includes half of all gay and bi African-American men, and 25 percent of all Hispanic/Latino men who have sex with men.
Don't forget Long Term Survivors.
Long-term survivors are exactly what the term says. As the population of people with HIV has aged organizations like GMHC have increased their focus on this growing population with resources like the Hub. Plus contributor Tez Anderson talks about aging with HIV here.
AIDS still exists.
Whether we call it AIDS or Stage 3 HIV, it's a medical diagnosis that indicates damage has been done to a person's immune system and left them open to opportunistic infections. Some of those who currently live with an AIDS diagnosis have carried that moniker for years, having been diagnosed in the early days of the epidemic, and simply outlasted doctor's predictions that they would die. But there are still too many people being diagnosed with AIDS simultaneous to or quickly following their HIV diagnosis. Unfortunately these dual diagnoses are particularly common among underserved communities including older adults, Black men, and LatinX men.
Celebrate National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, by sharing this information with your friends, family, and acquaintances. Without awareness, we won't be able to prevent 1 in 6 gay men from becoming HIV-positive in their lifetime. But with awareness we can not only stop the spread of HIV but actually end HIV stigma in this decade. And testing has never been easier or more imperative!