World AIDS Day 2009

Is there a generation gap when it comes to HIV/AIDS and gay men? That’s the question examined in this week’s thought provoking cover story for NY based NEXT Magazine to commemorate World AIDS day. In Where Have All The Ribbons Gone? Benjamin Solomon interviews several advocates in the fight again AIDS including New York personalities Mark Nelson and Luna Legacy. The article makes three important points I want to discuss:

1. The generation gap – 25 years later many young LGBT people have not seen the destruction AIDS had in the 80s. Combined with the fact that HIV isn’t the death sentence it was back then, there seems to be a disconnect as to why gay/bisexual men (especially) should still care about HIV.

2. Shift in racial demographics and priorities – The face of AIDS is now black/brown or more poignantly put, not a White gay man. I’ve been doing HIV/AIDS work for about five years now and in my opinion it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. If “traditional” organizations catering to gay/bisexual males have moved on to other social issues such as marriage equality, and “traditional” African American organizations (read: the black church) insist on ignoring issues of sex/sexuality and promoting homophobia, the ones who suffer are young black/brown men: the group most disproportionately affected by the disease.

3. Self-worth and dangerous decision making – We’ve been throwing condoms and education at people for over two decades now and the rates continue to go up in certain populations. Many social scientists are now moving towards a more “holistic” approach to HIV/AIDS because the truth of the matter is someone with knowledge and self respect (and more importantly, social support) don’t put themselves at risk. As the article points out, when you’re not getting what you need from your family, church, school, etc. it’s very easy to not use protection when you have a boyfriend that “loves” you. It breaks my heart every time I hear stories like Luna Legacy’s and reminds me of similar stories in Darian Aaron’s Living Positive series earlier this year.

As much as I work towards breaking down the structural factors that help keep the rates high in gay/bisexual men of color, I hope in 2010 we also take it upon ourselves to be responsible for our own health and well-being. Easier said than done (I know), but the hard truth is the calvary isn’t coming. We have to save ourselves.

To live with AIDS in 2009 is scary for a whole different reason: the feeling that, to the gay community, AIDS is no longer their issue.


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