Awareness Is Life--National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
By Carol Queen PhD, Staff Sexologist
I still remember where I was when I learned about AIDS. My gay friend Charles told me about it as we were driving down the street in Eugene, Oregon. I don’t even think it was called AIDS yet, in retrospect; it was very early in the epidemic, before there was any discussion of it in the mainstream press. That conversation launched me into my future--and the same was happening to people all over the country. As the boys I’d run Gay People’s Alliance and launched GAYouth with became at risk for a fatal condition that seemed to target them for their identity, the beginnings of my adult work began to gel. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, honestly, but I pivoted to AIDS activism and sex education because it was obvious they were linked to the survival of my community and my friends. I had no idea where they’d lead me.
Today—almost forty years later—the way HIV impacts people (gay men and everybody else) is well-known to science; the way you prevent HIV infection still centers barrier methods (really the only tool we had, at first) but also includes medication like PrEP, which can prevent HIV. And because of the intense science that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, we might even get a vaccine in this decade. So much has changed.
But there’s one thing that hasn’t, at least in the United States: The majority of the people who become infected with HIV are still gay or bisexual men and other men who have sex with men. So it’s time to commemorate National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, held on September 27, which reminds us that outreach, education, activism, and support are still essential parts of any response to this epidemic. We need this day—all these many years later—because AIDS stigma still exists, and prevention, testing and treatment are still not equally accessible to the gay and bisexual men (and MSMs) who need it. (Plenty of other people still need more of those things too!)
The National Association of People with AIDS launched National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in 2008 to recognize the enormous and continuing impact of HIV/AIDS on gay and bisexual men—even now, roughly two-thirds of all new diagnoses are gay and bi men, and Black men, particularly young Black men, are even more disproportionately represented (as are Black women and Latinx men).
HIV risk is higher when stigma is greater: racism, economic pressure, and homophobia are all part of this picture. Other STIs raise the risk of HIV transmission, and testing, prevention and treatment access (for HIV as well as for other STIs) are not adequate.
On September 27, let’s all bring HIV out of the closet, spread the word that AIDS is still with us and that every sexually active person needs access to the testing, prevention and treatment that will finally make AIDS a thing of the past.