In the wake of disturbing news about higher HIV rates in the United States, people living with HIV and allies are calling for a national AIDS strategy that confronts the homophobia, violence and bias at the heart of the U.S. epidemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the new
figures released on Saturday, August 2 reflect a "stable" epidemic, albeit
one with a higher level of annual infections than previously estimated.
However, the data reveal an ongoing and persistent increase in rates of
infection among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), many of whom are Black and/or Latino.
"The new estimates confirm that a vast majority
of new infections in
the U.S. occur in gay and bisexual men, and that Blacks are significantly
more heavily impacted than other racial/ethnic categories. However, the
data fail to clearly link the two, perpetuating a longstanding, damaging
polarization," explained Walt Senterfitt, CHAMP board co-chair and an
epidemiologist living with HIV who served as a Visiting Scientist at CDC's
Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. "We need CDC to clearly show the HIV
incidence numbers in gay men and other MSM of color."
"A substantial number of Black people infected
every year are gay or
bisexual, and a substantial proportion of gay and bisexual men infected are
Black. In fact, the heaviest impact is at the nexus of the two - being both
black and a man who has sex with men. Yet this population is significantly
marginalized, even stigmatized within both larger populations of which it
is an integral part. A national AIDS strategy must tackle this fundamental
challenge," he added.
Advocates state that CDC's response to the new estimates, despite
acknowledgement of the U.S. epidemic as majority gay/bisexual, does not
challenge the pervasive homophobia that the federal government refuses to confront. They point to research on gay men who experience bullying and violence in adolescence and later have higher rates of drug use, intimate partner violence, and HIV/AIDS. According to the National Anti-Violence Project, there was a 24% increase last year in the number of victims reporting anti-LBGT violence.
"The rising incidence in our communities is a
direct result of years of
policies and programs that demonize and ignore the sexual health needs of
gay men, especially African-American and Latino gay men who bear the brunt of the epidemic in the United States. Gay men of all colors face
significant health disparities that directly impact the incidence and
prevalence of HIV in their lives," said Jim Pickett, Director of Advocacy
at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. "We must prioritize a holistic,
asset-based gay men's health agenda that goes well beyond a 'navel to knee' focus. We must also address their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health needs that, when neglected, foster conditions in which HIV thrives."
Activists note that the national AIDS program of the Mexican
government's public health department sponsored public campaigns against
homophobia in subways and buses, television spots, school programs and by working with telenovela and movie producers.
"If this socially conservative country, with far
fewer resources than
its wealthy neighbor to the north, can ambitiously confront homophobia with government sponsorship and funding, why can't the United States?" asked Coco Jervis, CHAMP's Director of Policy.
"CDC talks of the need to develop more and better
including more prevention interventions for Black gay men and gay men of
all races. But such strategies will never be sufficiently effective or
taken up by those most at risk until - and unless - homophobia is directly
confronted," added Kenyon Farrow, National Public Education Director for
Queers for Economic Justice.
"Instead, politicians of both parties and the
Department of Health and
Human Services have caved into pressure from right-wing politicians,
squelching not only sexuality research but anti-homophobia and pro-sexual
diversity messages in HIV prevention and general health promotion alike.
Will our next administration buck this trend, or will it be more of the
'business as usual' that's decimating my community?"
The Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) is dedicated to HIV
prevention justice, bridging HIV/AIDS, human rights, and struggles for
social and economic justice to ensure the development and use of a broad
and effective range of HIV prevention options in the next decade. CHAMP
sponsors AIDS2008.com, a community blog at the 2008 International AIDS Conference.