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Reclaiming HIV as a ‘Gay’ Disease

 

EVEN IN THE FIRST DECADE of the now three-decade-long HIV/Aids plague, there was already talk about “the changing face” of the epidemic. We were told that face was getting darker as more people of color were affected, and more feminine as women also were being diagnosed in greater numbers. This generalization is still made today, and even makes headlines.

While it’s true that the proportion of minorities with HIV has risen over the years, the fact is that, since AIDS was first reported among a group of gay men in 1981, gay and bisexual men of all colors continue to account for by far the largest number of those infected with HIV, those at risk for infection, and those living with untreated HIV. Like it or not, hiv/aids in America is still a profoundly “gay” disease.

But you wouldn’t know it if you looked at the agendas and priorities of the nation’s top GLBT political groups. Beginning in the late 1980’s, they effectively handed off hiv/aids to organizations that focus exclusively on this issue. The problem with this strategy is that, without advocacy from our most influential organizations—advocacy focused specifically on the needs of gay and bisexual men—the issues affecting those most in need are pushed to the margins of the GLBT legislative and political agenda.

The Obama administration’s “2010 National Hiv/aids Strategy,” the nation’s first attempt in three decades to develop a cohesive strategy to address the epidemic, calls for a much more targeted focus on gay/bi men—and much more involvement by our community organizations in advocating for us. Like millions of other unemployed, underemployed, and uninsured Americans caught in the grips of the Great Recession, these men—and I count myself among them—rely on public programs such as Medicaid and the federal Ryan White Program, which provides assistance with insurance premiums, medications, and support services aimed at keeping them connected to the medical care they need to stay well and reduce the risk of infecting others. They tend not to have the disposable income needed to have clout with the national GLBT political organizations.

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