Despite AIDS having “built” the movement, Androite argues, the movement stopped working on HIV.
“But the organized movement kind of strayed away from the very thing that had built them to use their new resources and clout to push a really different agenda that served the needs of — I would argue — a sliver of the community they purport to represent,” he says. “And they didn’t really do anything helpful for the gay men and bisexual men…of color who are now most impacted by HIV but who also are not big contributors of these organizations.”
Androite argues that his reporting finds that LGBT organizations have surrendered the fight against HIV. He notes that it is no longer on the national agenda. He points to the 2006 controversial publicity move by the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Center to draw attention to the crisis. They put up billboards declaring “HIV is a Gay Disease. Own it.” The backlash from the community was fierce, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Despite the statistical reality that 75 percent of the cases in Los Angeles county at the time were in men who have sex with men, various HIV organizations condemned the campaign as getting in the way of getting various risk groups tested.
“There is a level of ignorance about the impact of the epidemic in our own community,” he says. “I would blame the LGBT organizations for that ignorance. It’s kind of like they don’t have it on their agenda: Why? It affects their constituency. But then the question is who is their constituency? Or who do they think their constituency is? Is it only the white gay people with disposable incomes who donate to them, or is it the actual community in all its diversity?”
As a result of far-right assaults on gays as involved in “exotic” sexual options, such as fisting or S/M, a framing developed in national LGBT organizing which de-sexualized gay and bisexual men, and focused instead on the idea that gay people were just like everyone else. That, in turn, Androite argues, underpinned the marriage equality movement and allowed the LGBT movement to continue to turn a blind eye to the growing epidemic.
The fact is, however, studies still show that men who have sex with men have significantly higher probabilities of getting infected with HIV: and the monogamy message is failing. The Office Of National AIDS Policy’s Greg Millett reported at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change conference in 2013 that 68 percent of new infections among gay and bi men were happening in the context of primary sexual relationships. A newly released study has found that this may be happening because of a confluence of issues: higher infection rates to begin with, sexual social networks, quantity of sex, lack of testing and access to care, and a higher infectiousness in early infection. There is even some evidence that HIV (Subtype B) prevalent in the U.S. is specifically targeting cells in the anus, making a possible heterosexual epidemic in this country unlikely.
But the HIV epidemic is slowly re-entering the national dialog about LGBT equality. The NGLTF Creating Change Conference in 2014 featured a plenary session on HIV, the first in as many years as some can recall. And NGLTF Executive Director Rea Carey has called for the community to finally address the epidemic. Now the question is, will other leaders join her directive and make HIV "our" issue again?