According to the CDC, nationally men who have sex with men (MSM) are 44 to 86 times more likely to be infected with HIV than their heterosexual counterparts.
Gay and bisexual men account for 53 percent of new infections, despite comprising only an estimated 2 percent of the total population. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius even said recently "in some U.S. cities, it is estimated that nearly half of gay African-American men are HIV-positive."
While HIV/AIDS does not discriminate, it is clearly still a significant issue for the LGBT community. Social inequality is often associated with poorer health status, and members of the LGBT community are at increased risk for a number of health threats when compared to the heterosexual community.
It's important to note, however, that while there are a few differences in sexual behavior that account for some of these disparities, most are associated with social and structural inequities, such as the stigma and discrimination that LGBT populations experience. In other words, prejudice and ignorance are the problems, not a person's sexual orientation.
Communal urgency regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic among LGBT folks has fallen, unfortunately. HIV/AIDS isn't the death sentence that it used to be, but it's still incurable and horrible. The gay community now tends to be more focused on civil rights issues (which are, of course, critically important) than HIV/AIDS, and HIV/AIDS activists are more likely to experience compassion fatigue than activists working on other issues.
We may no longer have weekly funerals for friends who have died from issues related to HIV/AIDS, but people are still suffering and dying. It's a dark irony that we were more invested in preventative, curative, and palliative care for HIV/AIDS when people we knew were dying on an almost daily basis. Now an AIDS death is a tragedy, but one that results less in activism and more in apathy.
Still, we do have more information available nowadays, as well as more ways to share it and connect with others.
On this day of awareness, please consider three things about HIV/AIDS:
- Disease prevention is not an exact science. You can do everything correctly and still get infected. Conversely, perversely, you can also do everything wrong and unsafely and still escape unscathed and uninfected. Statistics may say that you're 99.9% likely to avoid disease transmission, but you never know when you are that 0.1%.
There are lists of behaviors to avoid (i.e. unprotected anal sex, sharing needles, etc.) and ones to follow (i.e. using condoms, knowing you and your sexual partner's status, etc.), but even by following those lists, it doesn't necessarily mean you will never become infected with HIV.
The take-away message is simply this: Be aware of risk, and be more thoughtful and careful than not in your sexual activity.
- People who have been infected for less than three months are most likely to be infectious and most likely to falsely test negative.
If you are sexually active, get tested regularly, and actively discuss mutual testing status with any sexual partners you have.
- You can make a difference. If you have HIV/AIDS, consider volunteer opportunities in research studies and clinical trials for treatments and vaccines. If you don't (or even if you do), volunteer with a hospice. Attend local fundraisers. Support your local HIV/AIDS organization. Simply do something to create positive change in you and other people's lives.